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  June 1998    

Satisfying the world's future energy needs
World energy markets will soon face surging demand from developing countries - with distressing results.

According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), by 2020 developing countries could account for as much as 60 per cent of world energy use, compared with 30 per cent for OECD nations. This will mean that the West's efforts to restrain carbon emissions - in response to the dangers of unpredictable climate change - will be overwhelmed by the billions of extra tons of coal that countries such as China and India are going to burn.

With this in mind, the UNU and the Government of Iceland began a programme in 1979 that has so far taught more than 200 developing-country fellows how to turn hot water trapped in the earth's subsurface into electricity, and how to use this water for heating and cooling homes. Developing countries will need enormous amounts of power in the coming years, and showing them how to make use of their geothermal energy resources is one of the cleanest and most sustainable ways of helping them get it.

Iceland's experience with large-scale geothermal energy projects dates back to the 1930s, when the country's first district heating system became operational in Reykjavík. Now geothermal energy heats 85 per cent of Icelandic homes. Icelanders have also harnessed this resource to make steam for industrial energy and are successfully using it for commercial vegetable farming in greenhouses.

All this experience, plus that fact that the country produces some of the world's finest geothermal energy research, means that Iceland's geothermal scientists, engineers, and managers know what training is required to help increase geothermal energy use in developing countries.

The jointly financed UNU Geothermal Training Programme is unique. Its annual April-to-October hands-on curriculum grounds fellows in the technical and environmental aspects of developing geothermal resources. Fellows complete six months of training in one of the following nine specialized courses: geological exploration, borehole geology, geophysical exploration, borehole geophysics, reservoir engineering, chemistry of thermal fluids, environmental studies, geothermal utilization, and drilling technology. The rigorous on-the-job training is tailor-made for the individual and is designed to meet the needs of his or her home institution. Fellows work side-by-side with professionals from ORKUSTOFNUN, an Icelandic agency actively involved in geothermal exploration and development.

A big part of the training focuses on research projects, where fellows analyse data from geothermal undertakings in their home countries. Many of these project reports are written to be used as instruction manuals for measuring or interpreting information, and several of these student reports have been published in scientific journals.

The programme's main aim is to build a core group of experts in developing-country institutions. This approach has so far proven successful, especially in countries like China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Philippines, where many of the leading geothermal experts are UNU alumni.

The UNU's Iceland-based Fisheries Training Programme, which in August will begin teaching developing countries about fisheries management, is modelled on a similar training style.

In part because of the programme's success, the Government of Iceland recently decided to increase its annual contribution toward the UNU's Geothermal Training Programme by US$50,000, up to US$550,000 for 1998 - a huge amount for such a small country, making Iceland the leading donor to the UNU on a per-capita basis.

Armed with this geothermal expertise, fellows are empowered to make significant contributions toward shaping their countries' future energy policies.

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