Combating climate change, while simultaneously getting energy to the two billion people without access to it, are among the central challenges of this generation.
But a century-old energy technology that taps steam from hot underground rock seems to provide an answer to this challenge.
Geothermal energy is a promising alternative to coal and oil-fired power generation.
A project, testing advanced seismic and drilling techniques in Kenya, uncovered wells of steam able to generate 4-5 Mega Watts (MW) of electricity and one yielding a bumper amount of 8MW. The project is carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), in cooperation with the Kenyan power company KenGen.
These findings suggest a saving of as much as $75 million for the developer of a 70MW installation, as well as reduced electricity costs for generators and consumers, experts estimate. This could transform the prospects and costs for geothermal in East Africa and elsewhere in the world.
The results were first announced during the UN climate convention conference in Poznan, Poland.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "Geothermal is 100 per cent indigenous, environmentally-friendly and a technology that has been under-utilized for too long".
"There are at least 4,000MW of electricity ready for harvesting along the Rift Valley. It is time to take this technology off the back burner in order to power livelihoods, fuel development and reduce dependence on polluting and unpredictable fossil fuels." he added.
The GEF-funded project has, over the past three years used techniques for identifying promising new drilling sites. The main challenge to expansion in Kenya and elsewhere along the Rift has been the risk associated with drilling and the high costs if steam is missed. The nearly $1million Joint Geophysical Imaging project has aimed to overcome these risks. Kenya has set itself a goal of generating 1,200MW from geothermal by 2015.
More countries in the region with geothermal resources have signaled their enthusiasm to participate in the geothermal expansion, including the Comoros Islands, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
The Africa Rift Valley Geothermal Development Facility (ARGeo), backed with close to $18 million of funding, involving UNEP and the World Bank, will underwrite the risks of drilling in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It is set to commence in early 2009, with strong support from Iceland, one of the world's leading geothermal economies, as well as Germany.
Estimates by the Earth Policy Institute in Washington indicate that globally, geothermal capacity rose from 1,300MW in 1975 to close to 8,000MW in 2000 and stood at almost 10,000MW in 2007. The institute estimates that by 2010, geothermal capacity could have reached 13,500MW.
Over 12 new geothermal projects are in the pipeline or have been registered under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism according to an analysis by UNEP's Risoe energy centre in Denmark.
These include two in El Salvador, totalling close to 50MW; one in Guatemala for 25MW; four in Indonesia totalling 200MW; Nicaragua, 66MW; Papua New Guinea, 55MW and two in the Philippines totalling 60MW.
The United States is the world leader in terms of capacity with around 3,000MW followed by the Philippines with close to 2,000MW followed by Indonesia with 1,000MW.