We briefly explore Africa's geothermal energy potential and installed capacity, specifically in the naturally volatile East African Rift System, and the steps the countries situated there are taking to harness the energy resource.
Renewable energy sources became a hot topic in the last decade as global warming started to affect climate change. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, January - March 2023 was the fourth warmest period of the 174-year record. The situation worsens yearly, pushing countries to invest in renewable energy resources.
Renewable energy is derived from natural sources like the wind, the sun, moving water, and oceans. In addition to being environmentally friendly, renewable energy sources are also replenished at a higher rate than consumed, making them very affordable.
Renewable energy sources have gained widespread attention as climate change continues to intensify. With its vast natural resources, Africa has immense potential for solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources. Considering that geothermal energy is proving to be the most lucrative source due to its ability to regenerate itself at a faster rate than other renewable sources, this article explores Africa's potential for geothermal energy.
It highlights the East African Rift System and natural geothermal anomalies as the continent's significant sources of potential. Despite already tapping into this potential, Africa has yet to exploit it fully, indicating the need for more geothermal power plants to be installed in the region.
Renewable Energy in Africa
Africa’s rich natural resources give the continent immense potential for renewable energy. It has excellent solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal potential. Even though the continent is the leader in the renewable energy sector, it is beginning to realize its potential and taking steps to harness it.
A study by PwC published in 2021 revealed that total renewable energy generation increased by 11% in 2020 compared to the previous year. During the same period, the energy created by the wind increased by 14%, and the solar power outcome surged by 13%. Hydropower marked the most significant expansion of all renewable energy sources, with over 25%.
Looking at the continent by region, Southern Africa took the lead in operating renewable energy sources by producing over 24 MW. North and East Africa followed as second and third in line, with over 13 MW and 10 MW, respectively.
Geothermal Energy extracts the geothermal reservoirs from the Earth’s interior and harnesses its thermal energy as a renewable energy source. Geothermal power plants install two kilometres-deep wells into the ground to access the hot water and steam created by the Earth’s heat, which is around 5,500 degrees centigrade. After the power of the hot water and steam is collected, the cooled water is pumped back into the reservoir to be used again.
Among all other renewable energy sources, geothermal energy is proven to be one of the most lucrative ones since it can regenerate itself at a much faster rate than the other renewable sources and can be used to generate electricity and provide heating.
The chart above demonstrates the findings of a study from 2018, where a company applied geothermal resources to generate energy. According to the data, geothermal power plants operate at an 84% capacity compared to 20 to 30% for other renewable energy sources like solar and wind.
Geothermal Energy in Africa
Even though the top two leading renewable energy sources are solar and wind, Africa also has immense potential for Geothermal Energy. This potential is caused by two different factors: The east African Rift System and the natural geothermal anomalies of the continent.
The East African Rift System includes a chain of rift valleys that extend for thousands of miles. Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Eritrea are incredibly lucrative in geothermal potential since the East African Rift System extends through these regions.
On the other hand, the geothermal anomalies in the region are a natural gift for the continent and can be discovered through samples from the soil. The African continent comprises certain cratons that initially come from the Earth's ancient crust. Scientists found evidence of hot magma moving underneath the continent in the relatively newer segments of the continent’s sturdy foundation. These areas are mainly in the mountains and are caused by parts of the landmass pushing against each other, which causes geothermal anomalies.
Africa is already tapping into its geothermal potential. According to numbers from 2022, Kenya is Africa's largest geothermal energy producer. Kenya produces around 40% of its electric supply from geothermal sources. East Africa is also keen on geothermal power, as the region has an operating geothermal capacity estimated at 834 MW in Ethiopia. An additional 3,953 MW is also under construction in power plants located in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.
Installed Capacity (MWe)
Oikaria I (AU)
2003 and 2009
Oikaria I Unit 6
Kenya’s Geothermal Energy Capacity
However, the existing operations are not nearly enough to exploit Africa’s full geothermal potential. The chart below summarizes the findings from a study published in 2022. The study examined the geothermal potential of Africa region by region and identified 14 areas with “very high” potential.
nfaly kante12 days ago
Good article . Do you have any data/articles on Geothermal energy potential in West africa (Mali, Guinea to be more specific )