College of Law

Balneologist bags a power post

Dr Azwindini Ernest Tshibalo

The International Geothermal Association (IGA) has appointed Unisa’s Dr Azwindini Ernest Tshibalo as its ambassador in South Africa. The Deputy Director responsible for Curriculum Development and Transformation in the College of Law (CLAW), will be conducting research on geothermal energy and contribute research data to the IGA.

Tshibalo says that the ambassadorship is an honour for him personally and for the university as a whole. "I will be flying the Unisa flag by gleaning power and heat data for the World Geothermal Power and Heat Database on behalf of the IGA. Research data will be analysed by the association to showcase South Africa’s potential in geothermal energy and direct uses."

A geography and environmental science teacher at a college of education before 2002, Tshibalo’s 2011 PhD was in Environmental Science: Strategy for the sustainable development of thermal springs: A case study for Sagole in Limpopo Province. He says that in his literature study, he learnt that South African thermal springs were underutilised. "I was amazed to discover that the potential uses of thermal springs include the generation of electricity, mineral and chemical extraction, while direct uses include medicinal use, agriculture and recreation."

For example, he says, he found that in Alaska, the Chena Geothermal Power Plant is generating electricity from lower temperature water than any plant in the world, at 74 degrees Celsius, using the binary cycle system. "In South Africa, Limpopo, there is a thermal spring that measured 71 degrees Celsius at surface level in 2000. What if a power plant like the one at Chena could tap it to produce tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity?" he enthuses.

This finding triggered more interest in the geothermal field, and in 2010, Tshibalo was afforded the opportunity to visit the Geo-Heat-Centre at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Oregon, USA. "That is where I got an opportunity to observe and touch power-plant systems for power generation and direct uses in agriculture."

IGA is a world organisation that encourages, facilitates and promotes the development of geothermal resources, education and innovative research in geothermal technology. The association organises World Geothermal Congresses (WGC), at which Tshibalo was requested by the IGA to present papers in 2010 (Bali) and 2015 (Melbourne) on the topic of "South Africa Geothermal Country Update". The next WGC is in Iceland, 2020.

* By Azwindini Ernest Tshibalo, Deputy Director: Curriculum Development and Transformation, College of Law

Publish date: 2019/06/11