Author Archive for Prof D Chandrasekharam


Eritrea: Geothermal for food security: Just released

Journal Arabian Geosciences  Sept 2018


Water resources management using geothermal energy: Eritrea


Dornadula Chandrasekharam1*, Aref Lashin2, Nassir Al Arifi3, Abdulaziz Al-Bassam4 and Varun Chandrasekhar5

1 Professor, India Institute of Technology Hyderabad, Hyderabad 502285, India; Visiting Professor, King Saud University, Riyadh; 2 Professor, Department of Petroleum and Gas Engineering, King Saud University, Riyadh; 3Professor, Department of Geology and Geophysics, College of Science, King Saudi University, Riyadh;4 Professor, Department of Geology, King Saud University, Riyadh, 5 GeoSyndicate Power Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, India



Eritrea is a country with rich gold, silver and basemetal deposits and geothermal energy resources associated with all the five volcanoes located within the Danakil graben. Due to low rain fall the country has to depend on imported food and food imports have crossed > 46 % in the recent years. Although the cultivable land is about 16000 km2 only 5030 km2  land is being cultivated due to insufficient water resources. The per capita water requirement is projected to fall below 1300 m3/y from the present 1470 m3/y. The country’s GDP has fallen from 1.3% in 2013 to 0.3% in 2015. Each geothermal province associated with the active volcanoes can support to generate 445 million m3 of desalinated water from the Red Sea.  Providing basic needs like water and energy will boost the country’s economy and lift the socio-economic status of 6 million people in the country.


Keywords: Groundwater, water security, food security, geothermal resources, desalination,  Alid, Danakil


  1. Introduction

 Land degradation occurs due to lack of rainfall and groundwater resources. Depending on the frequency of rainfall, the region eventually may become a desert, exerting severe stress on the economy of the country (MoA, 2002). One such country along the western coast of the Red Sea is Eritrea. Eritrea hosts some of the world’s richest VMS deposits (volcanogenic massive sulphide) and shear hosted mineral and metal deposits (Barrie, et al., 2007, Yager, 2015) and has huge geothermal energy potential that are not explored and exploited. As a result the country’s economic growth has fallen from 1.3% in 2013 to 0.3% in 2015 (Magidu and Okumu, 2016).  Issues related to environment, poverty and unemployment are hampering the inclusive growth of the country. Greater than 80 % of the population depend on agriculture for livelihood. The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA, 2002) has initiated a national action programme to mitigate land degradation issues. The main crux of the issue that the ministry or the government of Eritrea or the financial aid banks such as ADB, in general, should realise is the country’s water and energy security.



Djibouti …the country with surplus geothermal energy

At least Eritrea has some food security…but take the case of Djibouti! Except for the Djibouti town, the rural Djibouti is struck with poverty. I happened to travel from Djibouti to (from the coast of the Red Sea) to Lake Abhe (bordering Ethiopia) cutting across the desert. When ever our vehicle stopped, locals, mainly children, rush to the vehicle not for food but for water! This is the state of a country rich in geothermal energy. Financial Aid Institutions are more focused in supplying food, cloths and water instead of finding a more permanent solution, which is widely visible, to uplift the poverty stricken rural population. Both east and western Djibouti have abundant geothermal energy waiting to be exploited. If one (if you are a geologist) assess the potential of geothermal energy, one wonders why this energy is not tapped at all!. Djibouti lies well with in the AFAR triangle with a very high geothermal gradient and heat flow like in Iceland. What else one needs! Iceland made a half hearted attempt to develop these resources and left it undeveloped. Other countries have keen interest in occupying Djibouti for other reasons but not interested in uplifting the status of the country. Let us analyze what energy resources the country has and how it can be utilized. The geothermal systems in Djibouti comprises of boiling springs, thermal pools, fumaroles and travertine deposits. The surface temperature of the thermal waters is around 99 C. The thermal waters are channelled through series of NW-SE trending parallel extensional faults that were developed during the rifting regime. Magneto-Telluric geophysical survey around L. Asal indicates high temperature zones at about 6 km depth indicating the presence of 1200 C geothermal at this depth. Like Lake Asal, the temperature of the thermal springs in Lake Abhe varies from 84 to 98 C.

Based on exploratory bore well data, it is proposed to build 100 MWe (891 x 106 kWh) power plant at Lake Asal geothermal site by 2020 and several 1 MWe (9 x 106 kWh) power plants around Lake Abhe and Hanle geothermal sites. This amount of electricity is surplus to Djibouti considering its population. If funds are available, why 2020, within 11 months the entire project around Lake Asal can be executed!! This energy can be utilized for desalination of seawater and fresh water can be provided to the population to support their agricultural and domestic needs and make the country food secured and free the country from VWT. The unit cost of desalinated water was around US$ 0.5/m3 (when the cost of fossil fuels was ~10 US$/ton . The energy required for generating 1000 m3/d of freshwater from the sea is about 11 x 106 MWh). The cost of desalinated water through geothermal energy sources is 1.6 US$ / m3 which is far less than the desalinated water generated through any other energy source. Billions of dollars given as aid for poverty alleviation can be utilized to develop geothermal power plants at Lake Asal and Lake Abhe to provide permanent food security to the country.


Increasing access to reliable and affordable electricity in energy deficit regions of the world

That was the workshop held in Feb 2018 in Italy. What is surprising is, none of the participants had any clue about the geothermal energy that is being utilized in Sub-Saharan countries like Kenya. Not only Kenya for that matter, other countries like Eritrea, Djibouti, Yemen, Egypt and Ethiopia, all of them fall within the focus of this workshop, do have considerable geothermal resources. Geothermal energy resources in these countries are best suited for off-grid electrification solution. Surprisingly even World Bank African programme authority never spoke about this source. Tendaho, Aluto Langano in Ethiopia, Alid volcanic province in Eritrea, Lake Asal and Lake Abhe in Djibouti and the entire East African Rift Valley extending from Afar to Tanzania have excellent geothermal energy sources. For example, Kenya has already exploring and exploiting geothermal energy at Olkaria and Menangai snd Suswa are ready to take off soon. Once Kenya goes full swing on its geothermal expansion programme, the entire East Africa Can come under 100% electrification grid. Here there is no risk is involved in generating power, no carbon dioxide emissions, no biomass burning, land requirement is small, no back power batteries are required, don’t need wind velocities to turn the blades. This is what an official from the African Development Bank highlighted….” yet many African countries still struggle to surmount the energy poverty which affects the lives of hundreds of millions. While many successful schemes have provided specific energy services, such as solar’. I don’t know why the entire world is engulfed in solar and have no time to think any think other than solar. No doubt solar is good but it is not the only world!! When cost effective solutions are showcased in the East African Countries, financial and research institutes turn a blind eye to the realities. Is it a deliberate method to support ancillary industries (supporting solar like batteries, cadmium metals for the batteries, raw material for manufacturing the acids, other small components to put the battery system in place) in Europe to sustain its livelihood? If solar is not supported, the fear is that these industries will collapse and shatter the GDP of these countries.

At least one person from ADB is able to voice his unbiased opinion “Africa has significant raw energy resources both in renewables and fossil fuels, yet many African countries still struggle to surmount the energy poverty which affects the lives of hundreds of millions…………………………. a solar lamp does not resolve cooking needs, nor can a TV provide medicines. “ Absolutely right. Too much of anything is not good!! Solar cannot provide affordable desalinated water to develop agriculture; solar can not provide 27 x 4 electricity capable of supplying baseload power. What the African countries need is water….freshwater to sustain their lives. Freshwater that is accessible at cheaper cost is what they need. To grow their food and do away with imported food. Virtual water trade is not good for any country. If solar is the ultimate solution for everything, why then the GCC countries are not promoting solar for desalination, which they require very badly? These countries still depend on fossil fuel supported desalination plant to meet freshwater demand

A workshop or a conference of this type should in fact debate on all possible renewable energy sources. Selection of team is very important in such forum….to drive the right message to the population.


The Nile

Nile is an amazing river supporting 10 countries before joining the Mediterranean Sea. But maximum water is being utilized by Egypt and Sudan. Till now no country raised any objection to it until recently Ethiopia proposed to construct Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam over the Blue Nile. So far Egypt is enjoying 58 billion cubic meters of water from the Aswan Dam. Once the Ethiopian Dam construction completes over the Blue Nile , Egypt will have tremendous pressure for water and food. What it needs by 2025 is about 106 billion cubic meters of freshwater to satisfy its 109 million population. Even to main the current per capita water requirement of 630 cubic meters per year Egypt needs about 1200 desalination plants. The Oceans are the future. “Water Water Everywhere but not a drop to drink” saying is the past…now it is “water water everywhere and plenty to drink”. This comes with a heavy price tag and climate change. Currently oil and gas are being used by desalination plants. For example Sydney processing 25000 cubic meters /d of sea water emits 954 tons of CO2/day. Even RO technology emits 7 kg of CO2 / cubic meter of freshwater generated. The future focus for controlling CO2 emissions is not thermal power plants but desalination units. With declining water resources, increasing demand for food and water the next CoP have to focus on this important issue. Heat mining is the only answer to this issue. Countries with hydrothermal and EGS sources should now focus on developing them to support desalination plants. Estimates show that the geothermal energy in Egypt has the capacity to generate about 60000 billion cubic meters of fresh water in an year. Even 10% of it will make a great difference to Egypt that is increasing food imports due to foreseen issues with Nile!!


Eritrea rich in natural resources but still not food and water secured

Eritrea, a small country along the western margin of the Red Sea, is enriched in metallic deposits like gold, silver and basemetal deposits. Besides this, the country has huge geothermal energy resources, associated with all the five volcanoes located within the Danakil graben, waiting to be exploited. The only setback for the country is the rainfall, that is very low and there are no large watersheds either. This typically shows that even though a country has economical deposits, lack of water drives the country into poverty. The country thus heavily depends on other countries for food with the current food imports exceeding 46%. Similarly the land for cultivation is quite large, exceeding 16000 km2. But only about 5000 km2 land is under cultivation for obvious reason. Over the years the per capita water requirement is falling gradually, and the current value is about 1300 m3/y. Apparently the country’s GDP too will show a downward trend when the economic status is not sound. The country’s GDP has fallen from 1.3% in 2013 to 0.3% in 2015.

But the country has abundant natural energy in the form heat from the active volcanoes. Interestingly, (apart from the rainfall) the thermal regime of Eritrea is more or less similar to New Zealand. In fact Eritrea has more number of active volcanoes compared to New Zealand. While New Zealand is able to supports its electricity needs from geothermal power plants, Eritrea is yet to take off in developing its energy sources. The main crux of the issue that the ministry or the government of Eritrea or the financial aid banks such as ADB, in general, should realise is the country’s water and energy security. With secured water supply, the country can be food secured and the rest of the issues will be solved once the population get adequate food and energy supply. Food items the country imports include wheat, fruits, rice and vegetables. Not only humans, even the farm animals, that render support to the 6 million people also starve due to inadequate supply of water. How can a country sustain itself with aper capita income of US$ 403/y !!. The average per-capita electricity consumption is 49 kWh, which is far below the per capita electricity consumption of neighbouring countries like Ethiopia and Egypt

While the Tendaho geothermal site is estimated to generate minimum of 127 MWe (1x 109 kWh) of electricity the geothermal sites around Alid, Nabro, Dubbi and MusaAli volcanoes should be able to generate much greater quantity of electricity. This energy can be utilized to generate fresh water from the Red Sea to support agricultural activity of the country. Once water is available, then all other issues can be solved.

Eritrea is in the aid list of several financial lending institutions. But the priorities of these institutions are misplaced. It has been stated that these institutions will create opportunities to agricultural schools and women in alternate income generating activities; help to increase the requisite skills and technology to build resilience in the rural Eritrean community to address the negative impact of recurrence of drought on food security and livelihood. Sounds illogical. Such activities can not be taught to a person who is starving!!. The solutions are clear and bold… puts all the efforts to develop the geothermal energy of the country. The geothermal technology is ripe and within a short period of 5 years the country can stand on its own skills and generate income from its land and mineral resources. The country is located over a hot spot…the Danakil depression….no one can deny this. Then why priority is not give to develop this energy source? True with Djibouti as well!! Difficult to understand the financial institutions’ aid policies.


The 12th IGC by the Saudi Geological Survey

The 12th International Geological Conference was just concluded at Jeddah. Organised by the Saudi Geological Survey, the conference was held for 4 days, from 4th Feb till 7th Feb in the Jeddah Hilton. The Minister for Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources and other dignitaries from SGS, attended the opening ceremony. An exhibition was organised by SGS. International participation was low and the delegates mostly came from Egypt. The exhibition was very informative and showed the variety of economic mineral wealth of Saudi Arabia. Shield area is going to be the future for the country. Only abstract titles are available for the conference. This is one of the very few conferences that has not printed abstract volume and done away with the closing ceremony. The participants were ignorant of the content of the material presented at the conference. It was more as less a casual gathering. No seriousness was attached to the scientific content of the conference. The keynote speakers did their best and considerable information on the shield and surrounding regions was thrown open to the delegates. Many participants missed the keynote addresses due to confusion related to organization structure. The keynote speakers include Willam Bosworth (Shallow state of stress of the Arabian Plate and its boundaries: Synthesis and Uncertainties) , Reiner Haus (Minerals for renewable applications), Marco Pagani (A global collection of openly accessible hazard models: the GEM mosaic), D Chandrasekharam (Evolution of geothermal systems around the Red Sea: an Over view) and Karoly Nemeth (From geocities to geopark: volcanic geoheritage as a driving force for geoeducation and geotourism on volcanic regions). The conference rooms were miles apart and made the movement of the delegates difficult. In spite of organization flaws, the conference opened up huge opportunities for the country to be food secured and generate plenty of freshwater and reduce GHGs.


Desalination: Future for food and water security

Abu Dhabi launched two RO facilities with each capable of generating nearly 460000 m3/day of fresh water from the sea. By the end of 2021 the country will have the above quantity of water for the population. At present Abu Dhabi is generating about 4.5 million m3 /d of fresh water from the sea from 10 distillation plants. RO is relatively cheaper than MED or MFD methods. In he case of MED or MFD the energy consumed is about 12 billion units of electricity to generate a cubic meter of fresh water. It comes with a heavy price tag….CO2 emissions……..about 13 million tonnes. The cost is also expensive. For example, vacuum membrane technique costs US$ 0.53 per cubic meter of freshwater generated while it is US$ 1.22 per cubic meter. The most interesting information is: the desalinated water will be stored in an aquifer 80 m deep in Liwa desert. Future demand and fear of starvation due to water is making countries to innovate such methods…..”necessity is the mother of invention” is absolutely correct.
There is no doubt that future weapon for countries is going to be “water”. Countries with good water resources, or capable of securing water will be the most strongest. With water comes food security. “Water water every where but not a drop to drink” saying will be a history soon. Seas are going to be the future sources of water for the humankind. Countries will now make a policy to protect their seafront!!. This is true especially with MENA and GCC countries. Israel realized this way back and has the power now to sell arms!!
2 to 7 billion people in future will face water scarcity says the UN. The water industries are now geared up to work on technologies to generate desalinated water at affordable cost. But still what the industries can not control is the GHG emissions from the energy source used for the process. But, as man evolves so does the technologies. Geothermal energy is coming handy to beat water starvation. Unit cost of electricity generated through geothermal energy sources in future will be the lowest….less than 3 to 2 US$ cents and the desalinated water costs will be around 1.6 US$ for cubic meter.

For more information read: CHAPTER 5: Desalination of Seawater Using Geothermal Energy for Food and Water Security: Arab and Sub- Saharan Countries: in Renewable Energy Powered Desalination Handbook 2018


Djibouti made to starve??

When groundwater or surface water are not available there is meaning in devising improved methods for irrigation and planning for supply of safe drinking water for rural population. But the financial institutions insists on such methods to lift the poverty levels of countries in the Middle east. Certain aid agencies go one step ahead and “to train the local population to dig wells” is one of the objective of a financial institution. This refers to Djibouti, the country that receives < 300 mm of rain in a year and the rural population are below the poverty line and are starving. The Djibouti town is well taken care of since the elite live in the city. This country imports 100% energy and food. There is no agriculture since there is no water. The cultivated area is about 1250 ha while the total area of the country is 23,200 km2!!. One can count the number of farmers engaged in agriculture.....1700!! All international aid agencies are interested in pouring money for improved water supply, lying pipe line to rural areas for safe drinking water, digging new wells etc etc. A futile exercise in an area where there is no water. It is like attempting to grow paddy in a desert!!It is difficult to understand whether such policies and plans are international or ignorance. Science has an answer but it is not a part of this policy or plan. Earth has given free energy at the surface...what else one needs. East and west, the country is sizzling with geothermal that is free and waiting to be utilized. Had the aid amount over the last decade been utilized in developing geothermal energy at Lake Asal and Lake Abhe, by now Djibouti could have been a country with flourishing economy with food and energy security with water for every one. It is difficult to understand why such easy solutions are ignored by the policy and makers and financial institutions. If the country is provided with plenty of fresh water, desalinated from the sea, the poverty, hunger and health are solved for ever. Large area can be brought under cultivation, job can be created and children can be saved from starvation. Scientist have provided the data on the amount of energy (electricity) that can be generated from these sites is published in top rated scientific journals. All such data and solutions are gathering dust. It is high time the aid institutions wake up and look in to the data and channelize the funds in a meaningful way rather than training locals on “how to dig wells”. It is a question of mindset, sincerity and determination of the policy makers. It is not only Djibouti...look at other countries around the Red Sea that has natural heat waiting to be harnessed. These countries are experiencing famine year after year. When technology can send man to the moon, discover new solar system, fly pilot free flights, make missiles.....can’t the same technology come out with a solution to tap the energy beneath everyone’s feet? If this cannot be done, then it is a shame on it not true? Whether it is IMF, ADBs, UNICEF, UN, JICA, EU .....all of them should focus on developing resources that can solve the problems for ever in such countries.


China: The super giant in power projects!!

China has become a global energy giant, over taking all other countries including USA!! The China Energy Investment Corp. recently entered West Virginia with a whooping US$ 84 billion MoU …..shale gas, power and other chemical projects are in its kitty now. China Energy is nascent formed by the merger of coal and utilities. This company has a work force of 32600 people…four times bigger than US coal based power company. Who is great. It is not leaving any energy source. On the geothermal front… the entire Himalayan Geothermal belt is being explored and a new power plant at Langju, just near Puga across the China boarder started operating recently. Hydropower is being developed in a big way over the Brahmaputra. India lost Puga for ever. The Indian army could have saved millions of barrels oil and the glaciers could have been saved had India harnessed the geothermal power at Puga and Chummathang. India slept over this project for years in spite of the fact the potential of this site was well projected to the army as well as to the ministry and the local governments. This site would have supplied uninterrupted pollution free electricity ( with baseload supply) to the entire northern belt and saved the Himalayan glaciers. The silk road is going to be supported largely by geothermal across the Himalayas. The International Geothermal Association held one of its Board meetings in Puga. Top scientists from Iceland, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Russia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia visited this site during the Board Meeting and evaluated its potential. They held meetings with the local power minister who inaugurated the Board meet. India is gifted with water and power but priorities are misplaced. For the last two decade or more power and water situations remained the same…..floods every year, electricity shortage and droughts. Indians have resilience year after year that keeps the country going……but how long? Diverting the rivers to save water and enhancing irrigation, control floods, increase food export to GCC countries under VWT scheme…….there are several things Indians are capable of executing:- Provided the right people are placed at the right place!. China is able to divert rivers by boring tunnel at 5000 m elevation! We are still wondering how to link rivers(!) while countries are looking at sea beds to connect cities. Decades ago, India was over China in developmental activities. Now China power company has become global…….executing large infrastructure projects and creating employment. There, one man passes the policy/law and the rest execute. In future, not oil or gas but water is going to dictate the power of a country. Now geothermal energy is becoming a source to provide food security to countries. Countries around the Red Sea are looking at desalinated water using geothermal energy as the main source to support food production. Besides saving oil and gas and Carbon dioxide, the countries can drastically reduce food imports, move away from VWT and be food secured. Perhaps China, surplus in water resources, may find it much easier to import soya from Brazil and save its water bank! All the GCC countries are going to be highly water stressed in future as all the aquifers in GCC countries are trans-boundary in nature. There is a competitor for agriculture that requires water……power!!. Power sector compete with agricultural sector for water.
According to a recent news release by the World Resource Institute, power plants, dependent on water for cooling, will incur power loss. The shortage of water could be for various factors like droughts, poor monsoon, demand for water > than recharge etc.
Based on the data from the CEA from 2013 to 2016, the power loss due to water shortage is of the order of 14 terawatt-hours (power plants > 600 MWe generation capacity). This amount is more or less equal to the yearly power requirement of Sri Lanka!! In 2016, 18 thermal power plants were shut down due to water shortage causing loss of power generation mentioned above. Why thermoelectric plants, the hydro electric power plants too incur greater loss due to water shortage. For example the Parli thermal power plant, as per the CEA data, was shut down for 89 days in 2016 that has an installed capacity of 1380 MWe (generating revenue of the order of US$ 3.1 billion). Apparently, there is a nexus between water-energy and food. Food is going to dictate the countries’ supremacy and not oil. For ample food to grow, water is essential and since the fresh waters resources are limited, cheap energy plays a role of generating fresh water from the sea. This relationship is strong. All the countries have sufficient energy from the Earth and it is upto us to utilize it to secure our daily bread. Wars for water can be mitigated !!!!


Geothermal for food security to Yemen

All the countries around the Red Sea have large geothermal resources that is lying untapped for unknown reasons. Millions of dollars are spent to fight poverty and hunger but the financial institutions have no idea about how to eliminate this issue permanently…..or they do it deliberately so that these countries always depend on them!!. One such country is Yemen Republic that is on the verge of facing famine.
The geographic area occupied by Yemen is about 528000 km2 and only 7 % of this land area is cultivable. 10% of this land is being used for qat cultivation. Greater than 52000 wells draw groundwater to support irrigated farming including qat cultivation. Qat being a “rural economy crop”, qat cultivation is given more importance than other crops like wheat, oats, vegetables and fruits. Due to depletion in groundwater qat cultivation and cultivation of other food products are declining and the country is heavily in to virtual water trade (VWT). Qat cultivation consumes 60 million m3 of groundwater. Qat contributes 25% of the country’s GDP, providing about 16% of employment and hence it is difficult to curb cultivation of this crop by the government. It is a high altitude crop and grows in areas with rainfall between 500-1000 mm or grows with irrigation. Qat cultivated area has grown from 8 000 ha in 1970 to > than 90 000 ha currently with production going up by 600 million bundles in 1995 from 35 million bundles in 1970. The farmers have great profit from qat sales that ranges from $ 2 billion/y retail value from $ 640 million at farm gate value. However, the country has an option to protect food and water security through desalination of Red Sea water using its huge geothermal energy resource. This will help the country to provide food and water to the growing population for the next few decades.

The Ministry of Water and Environment is preparing a feasibility study for a brackish groundwater desalination plant. If feasible, the planned 5 million L/day plant will help alleviate the city’s water shortage problem including cultivation.

The country should utilize its untapped geothermal energy to support generation of fresh water from the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden there by provide continuous water and energy to support qat as well as other food crops and reduce dependence on VWT and imports. The Damt geothermal province is akin to Jizan geothermal province and has the potential to generate > than 134 x 106 kWh of electricity. There are other geothermal province in Yemen yet to be exploited.
Desalination cost estimates using different energy sources indicate that generate one m3 of desalinated water from the Red Sea using conventional energy source costs ~ 3 US$, while using solar pv, the cost is 9 US$ and with geothermal source it is 1.61 US$

Currently the UN agriculture agency and the World Bank is launching a new initiative to avert famine in Yemen and sanctioned US$ 36 million to bail out the country from the oncoming tragedy. One of the goals of the aid it to provide longterm sustainable agricultural support.
A part of the aid, for sure, will help them to fill their hunger but for sustainable growth such short sighted policy funds may not give them sustainable growth. What Yemen needs now is water and energy. The funding agencies should revise their policies and spend such amount in developing the country’s geothermal resources. Once the country is able to support its own electricity, then automatically other issues will be resolved in due course. As detailed above, the funding agencies, if, are truly interested in uplifting the poverty of Yemen population, their priorities should change. It is not clear whether they draft such policies deliberately or not is not clear. According to the funding agencies, the grant, will boost productivity, income and nutrition, especially in those most famine-hit regions in the country. Providing food supply over a long period of time will not make the population free from hunger. Developing the country’s energy sources like geothermal should be the priority. The country will be independent and be able to stand on its own feet. This should be the policy of the funding agencies and the new SG of UN will realize this.