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Geothermal of the East African Rift
Geothermal power is rapidly becoming the go to source for renewable energy in East Africa. Ideally situated along the East African Rift System, the Rift Valley Nations are looking to invest and develop this natural resource. The development of geothermal in the region has the potential to bring these countries out of poverty, contributing to the successful achievement of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) 2, 6, and 7 targets.
However, sub-surface energy resources face the huge challenge of investment. It is known globally that this resource works, and works well. In volcanic settings it is also relatively easy to estimate approximate locations to target. Surface features such as geysers, hot springs and fumaroles tell us the two main basic criteria for geothermal are available: heat and water.
The challenge is to drill successfully to target a feature that has very high permeability - a constant flow of heated water, directly linked to the recharge, and that use of that water is sustainable. At the Menengai Geothermal Project this has proven to be a real challenge. The volcano is positioned on the Rift Valley floor, several kilometers away from the rift walls. It appeasr to be intersected by intra-rift faults and the formation of the summit caldera occurred over several key phases with a complex sequence of piecemeal collapse. The caldera has been partially filled by post collapse eruptions burying any surface trace evidence of faulting. The horizontal nature of the flows coupled with the complex collapse and tectonic structures, means that expensive drilling is required to gain the knowledge required of the sub-surface. Drilling in to the unknown is where investors become 'nervous'.
As each well in Kenya costs and estimated $5 - $8 million, success is essential. However many of the wells in the caldera have failed. Here, an integrated approach to identifying key locations will be discussed, with Menengai Caldera as an example, thus allowing for a compare and contrast of the data and consideration for improvements going forward.
Helen completed the integrated Masters in Geology at the University of Plymouth, graduating in 2013. From here she joined Prof. Paul Younger and his team at Glasgow to undertake a PhD, working in the geothermal system beneath the Menengai caldera in the East African Rift Valley of Kenya.
Currently Helen is working with the University of Strathclyde, guiding the development of an initial surface exploration study of the Chikwawa Basin in southern Malawi for geothermal resources. This also includes assessing structural controls on groundwater distribution in the region to strengthen the sustainable development of this resource without impacting the drinking water aquifers.
In addition, she has been invited to join the Geological Survey of Kenya as a visiting researcher and she continues to work as the UK and Ireland's ambassador for Women in Geothermal (WING), to promote and support women exploring the geothermal sector for research and employment.
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