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The East African Rift: Realising the Region’s Geothermal Potential

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photo: IRENA

The East African Rift System (EARS) is one of the largest rifts in the world. Characterised by a spreading crust, the tectonically active region spans 6,400 kilometres in length and up to 64 kilometres in width and runs through several countries in Eastern Africa.

The geological attributes of the EARS make it so rich in geothermal energy resources that – if harnessed – could provide a reliable, affordable and indigenous source of renewable energy to help meet the electricity requirements and direct use needs of several countries in the region.

Harnessing these resources by overcoming the challenges faced by the geothermal sector across the region can improve energy access substantially and help governments meet the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the climate objectives set out by the Paris Agreement.

A new report published by IRENA, Geothermal Energy Development in Eastern Africa, finds that the geothermal potential of the East African Rift has been largely unrealised due to various challenges that have contributed to the slow development of projects in the region for decades. The report identifies a need for adequate policies and regulatory regimes to increase the flow of geothermal investments into the region.

The new report highlights that the limited awareness about the region’s geothermal resource potential and the associated benefits, especially about direct use applications, such as in agriculture and food processing, may be contributing to slow development. In addition, current risk mitigation instruments and incentives fail to cover direct use projects.

Furthermore, the report identifies the lack of adequately skilled, local geothermal workforce in most of the countries of the EARS and limited understanding of the Western branch’s geology (until recently) as barriers to the industry’s development.

The EARS consist of two branches – an eastern branch and western branch. The eastern branch extends from the main Ethiopian Rift (Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea) through Kenya into northern Tanzania. In contrast, the western branch extends from northern Uganda through Rwanda, DRC, Burundi, southern Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique.

Currently, only about 900 MW of installed geothermal electricity capacity exists in the region, with power plants in Ethiopia and Kenya while other countries are either at the surface exploration stage or exploration drilling stage. Developers in countries of the EARS have been predominantly focused on electricity generation from high-temperature fields. However, the high-temperature resources occur only in isolated places with central volcanos and within only a few countries of the eastern branch of EARS.

On the other hand, low to medium temperature resources (<150 degrees Celsius) are more common, occurring mainly in the western branch and within large sections of the rift floor between the central volcanoes. Thanks to the development of binary cycle technology, in which geothermal fluid is used via heat exchangers to heat a process fluid in a closed loop, medium temperature fields can be used for electricity generation or for combined heat and power. The direct use of these geothermal sources could support industrialisation and transform the region’s countries from a socio-economic development perspective.

Building on the analysis of experiences in Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, IRENA’s report offers recommendations that can fast-track the deployment of geothermal energy in the region for power and direct use, including through:

  • Improving Policies and regulatory framework through transparent, clear, and predictable licensing and administrative procedures to attract geothermal developers and investors.
  • Developing new and innovative financing schemes to support the existing financing and risk mitigation instruments.
  • Creating awareness on the potential for direct use and associated benefits among decision-makers, communities, and industries.
  • Developing geothermal heat roadmaps with clear targets, as well as financial incentives to support the development of direct use projects.
  • Applying appropriate exploration techniques for geothermal resources in the Western branch of the East African Rift with a focus on discovering geothermal reservoirs along fault planes and shallow depth.
  • Focusing training and capacity building for public institutions more on mentoring support through on-the-job training to impart technical skills and commercial knowledge and support decision-making.

Read the Geothermal Energy Development in Eastern Africa report.

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Korea is putting innovation and technology at the centre of its clean energy transition

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The successful implementation of the Korean government’s Green New Deal will provide an opportunity to accelerate Korea’s clean energy transition and place the country at the forefront of some of the energy industries of the future, according to a new policy review by the International Energy Agency.

Korea recently set a target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 to steer its energy sector away from today’s dominance of fossil fuels and strong dependence on energy imports. To accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy, the government is committed to substantially increasing the share of renewable energy sources in the electricity supply, gradually phasing out coal, significantly improving energy efficiency and fostering the country’s nascent hydrogen industry.

“Many of these measures will help Korea not only to advance its energy transition but also to improve its energy security – a high priority given the country’s limited domestic energy production,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director, who is launching the report today at an online event with Joo Young-joon, Deputy Minister at the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. “I welcome Korea’s ambitious carbon-neutrality goal and the initial steps set out in its Green New Deal. The IEA is committed to supporting the government in these vital efforts.”

In 2015, Korea became the first country in Northeast Asia to introduce a nationwide emissions trading system that sets a best practice example for other countries to follow. But more needs to be done to reduce the carbon intensity of Korea’s energy supply, which is above the IEA average because of the high share of coal-fired power generation.

Plans by the government to close aging coal-fired plants reflect growing concerns among the population over climate change and local air pollution. The government can draw on this public support to swiftly introduce its planned environmentally friendly energy tax programme that will complement other policy measures, according to the IEA report.

Korea’s private sector has a high capacity for technology innovation and its population has shown an almost unparalleled openness toward digitalisation. This closely links Korea’s energy transition to efforts to spur investments in energy storage systems, smart grids and intelligent transport systems.

“Korea can draw on its technological expertise by addressing regulatory and institutional barriers in its energy markets and by fostering more active consumer engagement,” Dr Birol said. “This can improve the way the energy markets operate, enhance competition and encourage the emergence of new business models.”

The focus of Korea’s energy transition must go beyond the power sector to target emissions from industry and transport, the IEA policy review says. The industrial sector is emissions-intensive and accounts for over half of Korea’s final energy consumption despite the notable improvement in energy efficiency over the last decade. The IEA review welcomes the new policy emphasis on integrating individual energy efficiency measures as building blocks for smart energy industrial complexes. It will also be important to find a good balance between mandatory and voluntary measures to encourage further energy efficiency improvements in industry.

In the transport sector, Korea has well-established fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles, but progress is currently lagging behind government targets. The IEA applauds the government’s plans to introduce fuel economy standards for heavy goods vehicles, which would put Korea at the forefront of global efforts.

Korea has set ambitious goals for the roll-out of electric mobility and also to establish itself as a leading exporter of hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles by 2040. Those targets and the commitment to research and innovation more broadly are commendable, but Korea also needs to reappraise the role public transport could play in the future, according to the report.

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$600 Million ADB Loan to Expand Energy Access in Eastern Indonesia

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $600 million loan to help the State Electricity Corporation (PLN), Indonesia’s state-owned power company, expand electricity access and promote renewable energy in eastern Indonesia. The program also includes two grants, at $3 million each, from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction and the Asia Clean Energy Fund.

The second phase of the Sustainable Energy Access in Eastern Indonesia–Electricity Grid Development Program supports efforts by PLN  to expand electricity access and improve service reliability in nine provinces in the outer regions of Kalimantan, Maluku, and Papua. The first phase of the program began in 2017 and covered eight provinces in Sulawesi and Nusa Tenggara.

“The program will boost sustainable, equitable, and reliable access to electricity among the communities in remote eastern Indonesia, including through the use of solar and other renewable sources,” said ADB Southeast Asia Energy Director Toru Kubo. “Reliable electricity is essential for people to access job opportunities, education, and health services, especially during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The program will also support eastern Indonesia’s economic recovery from the pandemic and contribute to equitable and resilient growth.”

Indonesia’s economy has doubled in size since 2000 and the national poverty rate declined to 9.7% in 2018 from 19.1% in 2000. Such gains are now threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. ADB expects Indonesia’s economy to contract by 1.0% in 2020, compared with a 5.0% expansion in 2019. To cushion the economic shock, the government has announced free electricity for 24 million poor households and a 50% discount for 7 million more households, which could reduce PLN’s revenue and financing capacity.

The government has been pushing to develop the country’s economic growth centers beyond Java, where more than half of the population live. Residents in eastern Indonesia currently have limited access to electricity, with up to 56% of households having inadequate or no electricity access in Papua and 28% in Maluku—much higher than the national average of 4%. The government has prioritized 433 villages currently without access to electricity, all of them located in the eastern provinces of Papua, West Papua, East Nusa Tenggara, and Maluku.

Expanded electrification in eastern Indonesia is a key part of the government’s infrastructure investment plan, with the goal of electricity for all by 2024. The government plans to increase the share of renewable energy in the total energy mix to 23% by 2025, up from 13% in 2016. It also hopes to eliminate diesel use to the extent possible, a task most challenging in the remote eastern regions.

“The program will increase PLN’s delivery of electricity powered by renewable energy to remote communities by six-fold and reduce indoor kerosene and wood consumption, which is expected to generate significant environmental and social benefits,” said ADB Energy Specialist Diana Connett.

The first phase of the program in Sulawesi and Nusa Tenggara has proved successful. By the end of 2019, the number of new customers increased by 1.53 million, exceeding the program’s target of 1.37 million. The second phase of the program aims to provide electricity to 1.55 million new customers by 2024 across the nine provinces.

The results-based loan to PLN, with a sovereign guarantee from the Government of Indonesia, will support the utility’s efforts to install medium- and low-voltage power distribution infrastructure. It will also help PLN staff better manage assets and safely dispose of waste equipment, as well as improving procurement and payment systems.

The grant from the Asia Clean Energy Fund will help renewable energy plants apply advanced technologies to improve system design and maintenance. The Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction grant will support measures to install power connections for poor households and help PLN conduct a longitudinal social and gender impact assessment.

Other ADB energy initiatives include two ongoing private sector loans supporting wind and solar power generation in eastern Indonesia. They also include policy-based loans that, along with technical assistance, help strengthen sector governance and fiscal sustainability, boost private sector investment, and promote clean and efficient energy options.

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IEA holds talks with China on a roadmap for reaching its 2060 carbon-neutrality goal

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IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol held a productive meeting on 19 November with Mr Huang Runqiu, Minister of Ecology and Environment of China to discuss how the IEA can support China achieve its energy and climate ambitions, including the goal of reaching carbon neutrality before 2060.

The IEA welcomes the opportunity to support China in its development of an ambitious and realistic roadmap and policies for achieving a peak in emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. The IEA input is expected to draw on its policy expertise on emissions trading system implementation and critical technologies such as renewables and carbon capture, utilisation and storage.

The Chinese government is currently developing its 14th Five Year Plan, which will shape its economic policies over the first half of the coming decade, which will be a critical period for global efforts to tackle climate change. The new Five Year Plan is set to strengthen previous policies to further reduce CO2 emissions in line with China’s aim of achieving a peak in emissions before 2030. Measures are expected to include accelerating the implementation of a national emissions trading system, ramping up innovation in low-carbon technologies and increasing climate change capacity building.

At the bilateral meeting, Dr Birol underscored that a key challenge for China is to design a roadmap and energy policies that simultaneously put it on a path towards its carbon neutrality goal while also supporting the country’s continued economic development. He noted that the 14th Five Year Plan will be very important not just for China, but also for the world.

Minister Huang highlighted President Xi Jinping of China’s emphasis on the need for green, low-carbon industries, which he views as a necessary component of the high quality economic development that China is pursuing.

The IEA and the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment signed their first Memorandum of Understing on Climate Change Cooperation on July 2018, laying solid foundations for future colloboration. Both organisations have agreed to continue under this framework and work on a wide-range of areas spanning energy development, clean energy transitions and climate change. 

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