Thursday, March 14, 2013

Electricity From Lake

Lake Kivu, along the western border of Rwanda, is one of the world’s 3 known “exploding lakes,” presenting a threat as well as an opportunity for local communities. Deep below the surface of lake, volcanic vents release large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is then converted to methane gas by subsurface bacteria. Both the CO2 and methane are currently trapped at the bottom of the lake, dissolved in water. The lake’s dense layers prevent vertical mixing for the time being, but there is significant concern that a geologic disturbance in the area or a saturation of the water with CO2 and methane within the next 2 centuries could lead to a significant and lethal release of gases. Current concentrations of dissolved CO2 in Lake Kivu are estimated at 250–300 billion cubic meters, while methane concentrations are nearing 55–60 billion cubic meters. Experts predict that the lake could become saturated within the next 50 to 200 years. If safely extracted, however, the methane could provide a source of electricity and reduce the geochemical risks associated with the untapped gas.

To harness the lake’s energy potential, ContourGlobal, an international energy development company, designed and implemented Phase 1 of Project KivuWatt, an innovative extraction and power plant system that taps the dissolved gas to generate electricity, a unique technological solution that translates potential risks into both socioeconomic development and geochemical stability. ContourGlobal raised a total debt funding of US$91.5 million to finance both the methane gas extraction and production facility and a 25 MW power plant located on the shore of Lake Kivu.

Unfortunately, the momentum of KivuWatt is waning only a few short years later. Although Phase 1 was financed and is complete, there are 3 more phases left to reach the project’s ambitious 100 MW planned capacity. Both private and public sector investors are reluctant to invest in a region that is currently, and is likely to continue, experiencing political instability.

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