Biogas and geothermal finding a home in Tanzania

Biogas and geothermal finding a home in Tanzania

Tanzania, like many of Africa’s other emerging nations, is power hungry as never before and as such is experiencing a growing power crisis, with socioeconomic development only able to progress so far until the need is met. In rural communities biogas is offering an increasing degree of help, while the Government looks to geothermal to provide a significant contribution to the national power grid.

Biogas offers rural communities a new source of energy

Tanzania, as elsewhere in Africa, is trying to combat deforestation, but this is a difficult task when much of the population relies on firewood to heat their food and homes. Biogas is a renewable energy source made from biodegradable waste such as sewage and animal faeces that is finding real-world traction in various rural and farming communities, where inhabitants are starting to ditch wood in favour of the new energy source for fuelling their cooking fires and lighting their homes.

Biogas is highly flammable, being largely methane and carbon dioxide, and can be turned into electricity when fed into an appropriately designed gas engine. It is made through fermentation or anaerobic digestion of organic matter such as manure, biomass, garden waste, sewage, municipal waste, and energy crops.

Serengeti District Agriculture Irrigation Officer Simion Waryuba told the Daily News that his team has built a biogas plant they intend to serve as a model for farmers in the country. “A farmer can use the plant as a source of energy for cooking, lighting, ironing where a biodigestor of 30 to 50 cubic meters can be used,” he said.

Waryuba added, “While agriculture remains the backbone of our economy, still, a number of farmers are not aware of the functions of agricultural resources surrounding them. We are bringing this technology to them to have sustainable agro-business, which is interactive as well as integrated. […] The integration of livestock keeping and the use of biogas plant can help farmers improve horticultural crops by using drip irrigation system to raise crops throughout the year.”

Other benefits of biogas over firewood are health (inhabitants are no longer inhaling smoke and ash from wood fires) and manual (collecting organic waste is less arduous than chopping down trees).

Geothermal to become a player in national power supply

While biogas has the potential to elevate rural and farming communities, it has limited urban use and is unable to address the bigger national power issue. Last month at the Third Young Earth Scientists Congress in Dar es Salaam Vice President Dr Mohamed Gharib Bilal challenged Tanzanian geo-scientists to find ways of speeding up national exploitation of this power source. Gharib Bilal said the country has 4,000 MW of geothermal potential but less than a quarter of this figure is currently being produced. He pointed out that Kenya has been making good use of geothermal to generate a quarter of its national power supply.

He said Tanzania’s reliance on hydropower is problematic as low rains means a lack of power. Geothermal on the other hand is still a renewable source of energy but it is one that is reliable and able to operate round the clock at minimal cost.

Minister for Energy and Minerals Professor Sospeter Muhongo says Tanzania has “huge potentials in geothermal since Tanzania has the largest share of the East Africa’s Rift Valley system.” Experts have stated that Tanzania has the lion’s share of both the western and eastern arms of the East African Rift Valley system. Muhongo accordingly announced that the Tanzania Electric Supply Company (TANESCO), through its subsidiary Tanzania Geothermal Development Company, intends to generate 4,000 MW within the next to years. “Lake Ngozi in Mbeya has so far been identified as a suitable location to start generation,” the minister added.

Muhongo said the Government will partner with experienced geothermal nations such as Japan, the USA, Germany and Italy to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to effectively manage this new energy source.

Tanzania is not leaving it there however – the Government and private sector players are investigating other renewable sources of power that include wave and tide, solar, and a biomass-biogas hybrid.

David Okwara

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