By Esther Nakkazi
Katwe Geothermal Power Project Limited (KGPL), an indigenous investment, is in the process of establishing the first geothermal electric power station in Uganda.
KGPL is teaming up with an American investor, AAE systems Inc, a global engineering and development company in the turn-key geothermal project, investing a venture capital of $2 billion.
The project is also eligible for accessing the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGEO) mitigation funds against risk.
Geothermal energy is heat in form of steam derived from the earth’s geological structures used directly or indirectly for generating electrical energy. The steam goes to a turbine, which drives a generator that produces electricity.
The project will get a Power Purchase Agreement from government to operationalize its licence in Katwe Kikorongo-Bunyampaka geothermal field, said Ralph K. B. Nyakabwa-Atwoki, the project consultant.
Uganda under this project will be able to generate up to 300MW, a half, of its total geothermal power potential capacity of 600MW. Its implementation however, will be in three phases; surface surveys and drilling of at least three geothermal wells will be completed in 2 years to produce 10MW.
After finding the steam, an electric generator or steam turbine will be installed using the ‘Well Head Technology’ to produce up to 200 MW initially in about 4 years time.
Mr. Nyakabwa-Atwoki, also businessman said they are positive about the project because of its location; the subsurface temperatures for Katwe are about 140-200 degrees Celsius predicted by Geothermometry models.
While underground, drilling to a shallow depth of 200-300 meters suggests temperatures of 30-36 degrees Celsius per kilometer, which are slightly above the global average of 30 degrees and also suggest deep reservoirs in Katwe area.
Mr. Amos George Basaza, the chairperson of Petroleum Technical Committee said the 200MW geothermal would improve electricity coverage in Uganda, which is still one of the lowest in Africa, at 12 percent for the whole country, and 6 percent in rural areas.
Uganda also has a modern renewable energy policy that aims to increase geothermal use from as low as 4 percent to 61 percent of total energy consumption by 2017.
Mr. Vicent Kato, the geothermal coordinator at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development said the government has a development plan for geothermal power and since 1993 they have been drilling wells.
However, the programme is faced with barriers like lack of a geothermal policy and an Act, which is a big problem, specifically affecting the levels of investment in the sector and attracting investors.
“We have succeeded where everybody else failed, we have an investor who is interested,” said Nyakabwa-Atwoki excitedly of AAE systems Inc.
As an eligible candidate for accessing the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGEO), it will have 80 percent guarantee of surface surveys, which are estimated to cost $250,000.
While the risks of finding no steam or steam laden with heavy metals or of corrosive nature rendering it unusable for power generation has a 40 percent guarantee against $700 million investment. The project is also in an earthquake prone area.
This is in addition to further protection by Uganda’s membership of Multilateral investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) of the World Bank.
KGPL officials said they would rely heavily on Kenya, for its expertise in training the manpower, engineering works, management and to generally transfer geothermal technology to Uganda.
Kenya already has an installed capacity of about 280MW in geothermal energy, but in 2011, the Menengai Well with a geothermal potential of 1600MW was discovered. It is expected to produce 800MW by 2018.
However, scientists wondered about its environmental impact since it is found in a tourist area, around Lake Edward and Mountain Rwenzori, said chairperson of Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS) Prof. William Banage.
Scientists believe the Katwe-Kikorongo geothermal areas could be recharged from high ground in the Rwenzori Mountains and the hot spring water is a mixture of high-elevation component, local ground water from the Katwe cold springs and water from lakes in the area. The source of sulphate for the Katwe-Kikorongo hot spring water is magmatic and hydrothermal.