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August 2002



Geothermal Energy

By Nano Mothibi

Sandton – As world leaders gather to find practical renewable energy solutions for millions who desperately need energy, international businesses across the road at the nearby Hilton Hotel have acknowledged the echoes of good old simple ideas.

One of these has been the exploitation of geothermal energy as the sustainable solution to Africa’s energy poverty.

“Significant geothermal resources suitable for power generation have been identified in east Africa, particularly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda where the Rift Valley is situated. There are also reports of the ancient undocumented use of geothermally produced heating systems in Algeria, Ethiopia, Egypt and Tunisia,” says David Citrin, the vice-president of Ormat Corporation, which has begun a private geothermal power project in Kenya.

Geothermal energy is the heat found in the interior of the Earth along the earth’s tectonic plates and volcanic zones, with over 60 countries having potential resources. It is a renewable energy source that can significantly contribute to the reduction of emission of greenhouse gases during the next decades.

“Through geothermal energy, environmental emissions can be reduced by 70 percent compared with fuel energy. Geothermal systems are twice more efficient than oil-generated means of energy. They can be used for various functions such as heating, cooling, dehumidification and can be installed in many both private and public settings,” says Citrin.

Besides electricity generation, geothermal energy is applied worldwide for direct use of agricultural and space heating, this can make a further contribution to sustainable and environmentally benign primary energy development.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, the chairperson of Business Action on Sustainable Development, said: “Very often in rural areas, renewable energy is already the most economic means of supply.” Every energy source has benefited from assistance in its start-up phase, and renewable energy should be no exception.

Theoretically, this sort of energy would be enough to cover the energy demand of the world population in the coming 100 000 years and could provide clean sustainable power to serve the electricity needs of over 600 million people, mainly in developing countries.

By 2010, renewable energy could serve an additional 800 million people in developing countries.

“To bring renewable energy to millions of rural families in the developing world is a massive task. It will require thousands of small businesses capable of installing and maintaining systems. This could also be a major source of employment and business creation,” says Moody-Stuart.

Several electric utilities in the US have introduced financial incentive schemes by encouraging house owners to use groundwater heat pumps for space cooling/heating purposes, the same type of development might be considered in Europe in the near future.

In Europe including France, Germany, Greece, Israel and Russia, geothermal springs are used for bathing, washing and cooking for thousands of years. There are ruins of baths dating from the Roman Empire at numerous localities in Europe. Health spas have been operated for most of this century at numerous hot spring localities in Europe, in particular in Central and Eastern Europe. -- Witsnews

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