Jan. 3, 2018
In 2013, reports of vast geothermal potential locked in underground chambers caused by the East African Rift (EAR) sent shockwaves through Tanzania's energy sector. Until that point, the EAR had been primarily associated with significant oil and gas discoveries, yielded by its onshore basin system, or with some of the country's most well-known tourist destinations: the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Tanganyika.
However, with the announcement that hidden in the depths of the earth was anything between 650 and 5,000MW of geothermal energy, it was revealed that the EAR's treasures were as diverse as they were plentiful.
The EAR, a splintering of the earth's crust in the eastern African region, began developing 20-25 million years ago as the African plate started cracking into smaller fragments, including the Nubian and Somali plates. Today, the results of this process can be seen in a long depression in the earth stretching 6000km along the eastern side of Africa, from Syria down to Mozambique.
The EAR coincides with Tanzania's western border, and it is here that the majority of the geothermal exploration is underway. In June 2016, activity began with the drilling of three wells in Lake Ngozi, which has been labelled as one of the hubs of geothermal resources, along with, Kisaki, Luhoi and Lake Natron. Other areas of potential interest include the northern volcanic province of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, as well as the Rungwe province in southwest Tanzania.
The Tanzania Geothermal Development Company (TGDC) was formed not long after the first discovery, an early step toward mobilizing the industry. In complementary efforts, the government has created a geothermal project under the Scaling-up Renewable Energy Program (SREP). Estimates of the available resources remain wildly variable, between 650-5,000MW of energy, reflecting the limited exploration and investigation completed so far.
Regardless, the government is keen to develop and set a timeframe for the realization of this potential to further incentivize the market. According to the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, Tanzania should add 100MW of installed geothermal capacity to its grid by 2020, and double this figure to 200MW by 2025. TGDC's geothermal targets are somewhat more ambitious, aiming for 200MW by 2020, 500MW by 2022, and 800MW by 2025. TGDC, with the support of the Ministry of Energy and Minerals and development partners, is planning further exploration. However, in order to break ground at many of the estimated 50 geothermal hotspots—currently, all geothermal work in Tanzania is still at the surface exploration stage—TGDC is looking for further investors to finance its exploration. According to the African Development Bank's 2015 Tanzania Country Profile regarding renewable energy, public sector support is targeted at the higher-risk phases of exploration, but the aim is to encourage private sector support for commercial development. For a country with a gaping energy deficit, a growing population, and serious plans for industrialization, ways to broaden the grid are not to be taken lightly. Demand for electricity is expected to increase by 75% by 2035 as Tanzania emerges as a middle-income country, industries become more sophisticated, and people gain access to electricity. Geothermal—aside from providing Tanzania with a much-desired alternative to traditional fossil fuels and mitigating the environmental impact of burning coal and wood—can also play a vital role in the government's plans to improve access to energy in more remote areas. World Bank statistics from 2014 estimate 73% of the population lives in rural areas and only 36% of households have access to electricity. Advances in geothermal allow for more base-load power to be fed into the main grid system of state-owned electricity provider, TANESCO, but can also be exploited in mini-grid projects supplying energy directly to rural communities.