Comoros moves forward with geothermal energy project

The Comorian government hopes to install a geothermal energy plant, explained here (Wikimedia Commons)The Union of the Comoros is moving forward with plans to construct a geothermal plant to supply energy to the country. The initiative envisions tapping into a geothermal reservoir located 1,700 to 1,900 meters below the Karthala volcano on Grande Comore, the largest of the country’s three main islands. The project was announced at a recent general assembly meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency. The African Union (AU) has pledged to contribute $14.8 million to the project and the government of New Zealand will supply $4 million.

The Comoros currently relies on fossil fuels for 96 percent of their energy needs, leading to frequent fuel shortages and power blackouts. The Karthala project could result in 30 to 50 megawatts (MW) of energy production, nearly tripling the country’s current installed generating capacity of 22 MW.

Noting the geological context of the Comoros as favorable to geothermal energy, teams from New Zealand first partnered with Comorian officials in July 2015 to begin exploring the viability of geothermal power generation on Grande Comore. These initial tests focused on the 2,600-meter Karthala volcano, particularly its large caldera, the cauldron-like depression found at the top of many volcanoes.

The encouraging results from these experiments exposed the existence of the geothermal reservoir, which has an exploitable temperature of 300° Celsius. Since then, the project’s backers have completed a full business plan and launched environmental studies and site design. These moves are designed to encourage private investors and donors to support the initiative, as the backers seek an additional $27 million to augment the combined $19 million they have received from New Zealand and the AU.

Critically, the venture has the backing of the Comorian government. In an interview with ThinkGeoEnergy, Djaffar Ahmed Said Hassani, who runs the Comorian Ministry of Energy, has said that his “government is committed to geothermal energy because it knows that this energy is the future and allows us to boost our economy.”

Ethiopia and Kenya are currently the only African countries to exploit geothermal resources. The latter is home to the Olkaria II plant — the largest one of its type in Africa with a capacity of 35 MW. Eritrea, Djibouti, Uganda, and Zambia have undertaken preliminary research on tapping into their geothermal resources, but the Comoros is the only country outside of the geologically active Great Rift Valley to use the technology to date.