Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Malawi Geothermal 2017

De-Risking the Geothermal Resource of Malawi

Earlier this year Dr Tim Raub, David Townsend (an ex-student and Founder of Townrock Energy) and myself made a reconnaissance field trip to Malawi to assess its geothermal potential.  We were joined in the field by ex-St Andy and lecturer in Geology at Chancellor College, Malawi, Dr Blackwell Manda. The trip covered the length and breadth of the country and finished with the delivery of a workshop on geothermal to university, government and industry. 
David Townsend and Blackwell Manda at the 

The project has grown out of our Department’s interests in geothermal in Scotland and abroad. It also continues a focus we have had on East Africa over the last 10years specifically with work in Ethiopia. 

So what geothermal interests do Africa and Scotland have in common you might well ask? Well both countries have a growing need for off-grid and end-of-grid energy solutions and both have some geothermal potential.

Global Challenge

The ubiquitous provision of clean, reliable energy represents one of our key Global Challenges that has both economic and well-being impacts throughout the developing world.  In so many countries, the current status where both heat and electrical power are supplied via erratic systems severely impacts economic growth.  In addition, the use of carbon-based (often charcoal) cooking systems has crippling health impacts, with associated deforestation causing further compounding of local environmental damage.

Over the last 10 years many developing nations have leap-frogged the Western world in telecom technology with a step change in thinking that is revolutionising daily lives (GSMA – The Mobile Economy, Africa, 2016).  In a similar mode, energy provision could also make a step change by not following a typical delivery system for energy through grid supply.  Rather, an off-grid model of energy provision (supply and storage) based on a scalable solution for small homesteads, through villages to townships could offer not only vital power to stimulate local industrial growth but could do so with major health benefits for the local populations. Furthermore, providing independence in energy at a local level would also address many of the issues caused by rural depopulation to cities and if the power is supplied by renewable, low to zero carbon means this would have wider global impact.
use of geothermal spring for washing

Addressing rural energy needs in the past have often failed as they have attempted to provide a singular energy solution to all settings.  Rather, the diversity of rural settings necessitates a flexible approach that offers a varied range of scalable solutions working together in an integrated network. Different physical settings require different combinations of technology. Renewable systems such as biomass, geothermal, solar, wind and hydro could provide the required mix of both electrical and heat base load together with peak demand when properly managed and backed-up with appropriate storage solutions.  The implementation of these solutions will require specialist teams of experts including resource scientist, engineers and social scientists. 

Malawi's needs

new pit being dug for using geothermal water for fish farming
Currently, Malawi produces 99.7% of electricity from hydro-power.  Supply cannot meet demand, and blackouts are regular in urbanising areas and normal in rural regions.  Most of the ~18 million population lives and works off-grid.  Assuring an energy future through carbon-based resources or nuclear comes with a price.  Further, as biomass burning is ubiquitous at a local level, this has large impacts on the environment and in particular the many unique forest ecosystems.  Biomass burning also contributes to soil erosion and hydro-power dam siltation, exacerbating Malawi’s energy crisis.
These power- and heat-generating challenges stunt development of industry, discourage tourism, frustrate personal ambition, and degrade Malawi’s cultural heritage. 

Solutions however are available.

Our initial funding from Global Impact and EPSRC funds allowed us to undertake an evaluation that consisted of three parts:
        Background desk-top review of geothermal potential including heat analysis of the country-wide geological database and recently acquired airborne geophysical survey
        Reconnaissance survey of known hot-spring sites
        Delivery of preliminary results plus geothermal methodologies and economics at a workshop to local stakeholders
Calculated heat production map and geothermal centres

Recommendations - a collaborative approach

stakeholder meeting 
It has been clear from the activities during Stage 1 of this project that there is not only a national geothermal resource for development in Malawi but that there is an appetite for development at both Government level and most importantly at a local level.  The latter is manifest by the high level of local interest we found during our field visit especially from young entrepreneurs.  They are clearly an important part of future developments as it is through local development that communities will benefit most. A course of action for us now includes the following:
Stage 2
        Later this year we will be hosting a visit by a team of Malawian engineers.  The visit will include meetings with Scotland-Malawi Partnership in Edinburgh; with collaborators at Strathclyde University in Glasgow; with industrial partners SASOL in St Andrews and ARUP in Edinburgh. A visit to the Netherlands geothermal operational plant is also planned
        Further field tests will be conducted at a few of the already visited sites in Malawi to better determine the resource potential.
        Working with socio-economic staff from University of Malawi an assessment of the social infrastructure for development and level of local (entrepreneurial) capacity for development will be made
Stage 3 longer term plans will then include:
        Drill to test the geothermal potential with two, 100m boreholes (testing the geothermal gradient and flow rates)
        Build energy and resource development partnerships – these will include key players both in Scotland and Malawi at academic institutes, government bodies and private companies 

        Delivery of integrated system to two test sites.

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