Quantcast

Geothermal Power Nears 12,000 Megawatts Worldwide

In 2013, world geothermal electricity-generating capacity grew 3 percent to top 11,700 megawatts across 24 countries. Although some other renewable energy technologies are seeing much faster growth—wind power has expanded 21 percent per year since 2008, for example, while solar power has grown at a blistering 53 percent annual rate—this was geothermal’s best year since the 2007-08 financial crisis.

Geothermal power’s relatively slower growth is not due to a paucity of energy to tap. On the contrary, the upper six miles of the Earth’s crust holds 50,000 times the energy embodied in the world’s oil and gas reserves. But unlike the relative ease of measuring wind speed and solar radiation, test-drilling to assess deep heat resources prior to building a geothermal power plant is uncertain and costly. The developer may spend 15 percent of the project's capital cost during test-drilling, with no guarantee of finding a viable site.

Once built, however, a geothermal power plant can generate electricity 24 hours a day with low operation and maintenance costs—importantly because there is zero fuel cost. Over the life of the generator, geothermal plants are often cost-competitive with all other power sources, including fossil fuel and nuclear plants. This is true even without considering the many indirect costs of fossil- and nuclear-generated electricity that are not reflected in customers’ monthly bills.

The top three countries in installed geothermal power capacity—the U.S., Philippines and Indonesia—account for more than half the world total. California hosts nearly 80 percent of the 3,440 megawatts of U.S. geothermal capacity; another 16 percent is found in Nevada.

Despite having installed more geothermal power capacity than any other country, the U.S. currently generates less than 1 percent of its electricity from the earth’s heat. Iceland holds the top spot in that category, using geothermal power for 29 percent of its electricity. Close behind is El Salvador, where one quarter of electricity comes from geothermal plants. Kenya follows at 19 percent. Next are the Philippines and Costa Rica, both at 15 percent, and New Zealand, at 14 percent.

Indonesia has the most ambitious geothermal capacity target. It is looking to develop 10,000 megawatts by 2025. Having only gained 150 megawatts in the last four years, this will be a steep climb. But a new law passed by the government in late August 2014 should help move industry activity in that direction: it increases the per-kilowatt-hour purchase price guaranteed to geothermal producers and ends geothermal power’s classification as mining activity. (Much of Indonesia’s untapped geothermal resource lies in forested areas where mining is illegal.) Even before the new law took effect, geothermal company Ormat began construction on the world’s largest single geothermal power plant, a 330-megawatt project in North Sumatra, in June 2014. The plant should generate its first electricity in 2018.

Indonesia is just one of about 40 countries that could get all their electricity from indigenous geothermal power—a list that includes Ecuador, Ethiopia, Iceland, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines and Tanzania. Nearly all of them are developing countries, where the high up-front costs of geothermal development are often prohibitive.

To help address this mismatch of geothermal resources and funds, the World Bank launched its Global Geothermal Development Plan in March 2013. By December, donors had come up with $115 million of the initial $500 million target to identify and fund test-drilling for promising geothermal projects in the developing world. The World Bank hopes that the experience gained from these projects will lead to lower costs for the geothermal industry overall. This would be good news on many fronts—simultaneously reducing energy poverty, air pollution, carbon emissions and costly fossil fuel imports.

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

Rooftop Solar Boom Underway

UK Wind Power Exceeds Coal During Storm, Continues to Break Energy Records

Students Demand Clean Energy

Sponsored
Kanggava Bay on Rennell Island, where a grounded ship is leaking oil, according to some reports. Peter Hendrie / Getty Images

A ship that ran aground in the Solomon islands Feb. 4 is now menacing a coral reef with an oil spill, The Guardian reported Tuesday.

The 740 foot MV Solomon Trader was stranded on a reef near Rennell Island, home to the largest raised coral atoll in the world and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site, AFP reported. The bulk carrier has not been salvaged in the two weeks since it was stranded because of Cyclone Oma, Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) director Loti Yates told Radio New Zealand early Monday morning.

Read More Show Less
Visitors to the Grand Canyon may have been exposed to unsafe radiation levels, for almost two decades. George Rose / Getty Images

Grand Canyon visitors and employees who passed through the national park's museum collection building were exposed to radiation for nearly two decades, AZCentral reported Monday.

That's because, until last year, three five-gallon paint buckets filled with uranium ore were stored in the building, according to a Feb. 4 email sent out to all National Park Service employees by Grand Canyon safety, health and wellness manager Elston "Swede" Stephenson.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

The Grand Canyon celebrates its 100th birthday as a national park this month, but it just earned itself a protector who is even older!

Read More Show Less
Portland alley advocates estimate there are 76 miles of alleys in their city—all potential green public spaces. This northeast Portland neighborhood is one of many projects reclaiming forgotten concrete pathways for nature and people. Derek Dauphin

By Lynn Freehill-Maye

Rachel Schutz hated watching the kids play outside, and not because she was a curmudgeon. As director of an after-school program in a Latino neighborhood near ­Portland, Oregon, she likes the outdoors, the piney tang that hangs in the damp air.

Read More Show Less
RiverNorthPhotography / E+ / Getty Images

Today, the U.S. celebrates Presidents' Day, a day to commemorate the leadership and legacy of the so-far only men who have governed the country since its founding.

Read More Show Less