Archive for February, 2016


Future of geothermal

“The outlook for the geothermal industry in 2016 is positive” said President of Geothermal Resources Council, USA, Paul Brophy. According to Ruggero Bertani, geothermal business development manager, ENEL, the installed capacity will jump to 21.5 GWe from the existing 12.6 MWe in 2017and will further show a large annual increase by 2020. With the formation of the Global Geothermal Alliance during the recently concluded Paris CoP21 meeting in December. a five- fold increase in global installed capacity is expected by 2020. Very soon Indonesia and Mexico will excel in installation capacity and continue to be the leaders in this industry. China has already drafted plans to tap the EGS sources in the Himalayan geothermal belt to support its proposed Silk road project. China is looking at developing a 800 MWe from EGS along the Silk Road. India with its limping attitude will soon realize what the country has lost due to its inability to develop the potential geothermal zones in the Himalayas.

The GGA realized that despite solid geothermal energy potential in 90 countries, only 24 countries could realize its full potential due to the existing sound policy, licensing structure and financial support from the banks and other institutions. The GGA is planning to have an advisory service to enable regulatory and institutional framework and promote investments. It will also come out with a sound policy to mitigate risk mechanisms. The initiative taken by the climate policy in September 2015 will help the geothermal industry to raise public finance to US$ 73 billion.

The Asian Development Bank created in October 2015, US$ 500 million loan programme to support geothermal in Indonesia. Similarly the Inter American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank will support the East Caribbean geothermal development programme with a loan package of US$ 1 million. During the Paris meeting, an alliance of 54 countries, known as the African Union pledged US$ 20 billion to support geothermal industry in EAR valley and north Africa. Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia are seriously looking at the geothermal potential it has along the Red Sea coast. In a recent paper in the Journal African Earth Sciences, the geothermal energy development along the Red Sea coast will support large scale demand of fresh water for the growing populations of all the Gulf countries and substantially increase the agricultural products like wheat and barley for Saudi Arabia and make these countries food secured. This energy is best suited to mitigate climate change and supply base load electricity for the asking and energise all the developing countries around the Red Sea. The project costs, unit power cost, land cost, supply statistics land requirement appearing in all the reports are all realistic figures and no tags attached. Unlike other renewables, geothermal is stand alone source. No back up batteries are needed. No sunlight is needed. Not only power, this source can support space heating and cooling and reduce the cost of electricity bills by 60-70% in addition to cutting the CO2 emissions to minimum. Due to unrealistic barriers and ignorance of the policy makers and administrators, geothermal is not in the limelight in India alone.

Now countries are looking at geothermal energy to desalinate sea water to meet the growing demand of fresh water from domestic, agricultural and industrial sectors. Due to drastic decline in piezometric surfaces and all the aquifers are being trans-boundary in nature, especially in all the Gulf countries, the future war will be fought for water. For example, at the current level of abstraction, the the Saq-Ram aquifer, one of the major aquifers extending between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, may yield water only for the next 30 years only. Hence, countries have no option but to process the sea water. At present freshwater processed from sea requires 134 x 106 kWh of electricity to provide 275 L/day per pita fresh water to Saudi Arabian population. This leaves a large volume of CO2 into the atmosphere because energy intensive multistage flash desalination process is used that requires > 10 TWh of electricity to desalinate 1 m3 of sea water. Currently 33 desalination plants are running in Saudi Arabia. Cost of desalinated water is heavily subsidised by the government. While the actual cost of desalinated water is around US$ 6/m3, the subsidised water that is being supplied by the Saudi Arabia is 0.03 US$/m3. This cost will not sustain for long considering the future volume of water requirement by domestic and agricultural sectors as the demand is directly linked to the population growth.

For Saudi Arabia the most efficient and cost effective method to generate fresh water from the sea is to adopt desalination technology supported by renewable energy sources like solar or geothermal. Solar pv is not cost effective and needs supporting facilities while geothermal can supply baseload power and does not require back-up power (like batteries) and the system can work at > 90 % all the year. Due to shortage of water, Saudi Arabia is importing large quantity of wheat and barley. This is an alarming situation. Country’s cannot vest food security with other countries. By utilizing geothermal energy about 517 x 1016 L/day of fresh water can be generated through desalination.   While the current consumption of water by domestic and agricultural sectors in Saudi Arabia is 23640 x 109 L/y, geothermal energy can generated almost three to four times this quantity through desalination process.

A wakeup call is given by the 2015 December CoP21 meet in Paris by signing GGA by all the countries. Countries have realized that future energy lies below our feet. It is wise to harness it instead of looking at imported and unrealistic energy sources.