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Geothermal Energy Still Far From Widespread Utilization in China

Shallow geothermal energy is a form of thermal energy that is available in underground soil and groundwater. Compared to other sources of energy, geothermal energy from shallow ground is an abundant and recycled energy resource with wide geographic distribution. Ground source heat pump technology makes development and utilization of shallow geothermal energy possible.

China is starting to focus on development and utilization of geothermal energy. In Shandong province, it is estimated that shallow geothermal energy resources within the first 200 meters (approx. 600 feet) beneath the surface is equivalent to 131 million tons of standard coal each year, or approximately 40 percent of the province's coal reserves. The potential value of these resources is more than 6.5 trillion yuan (approx. US$1 trillion).

Prospects for ground source heat pumps become more promising as China plans to ramp up its efforts to reduce both emissions and energy use as part of its five year plan for 2011 to 2015, according to industry insiders. The market for development and utilization of geothermal energy will grow to approximately 100 billion yuan (approx. US$15 billion) over the next five years, according to Yuan Funing, a spokesperson for Yateer, a Shandong province-based maanufacturer of ground source heat pumps. Sales of the pumps already exceed 8 billion yuan in China and is growing 20 percent annually. Initial installment fees for the pumps have also decreased significantly, further paving the way for utilization of shallow geothermal energy across the country. 

However, wide-spread utilization of shallow geothermal energy is still some distance away due to several issues with pump technology, including an unregulated market and unified standards as well as difficulties associated with maintenance and repair of the units. Due to a low market threshold, a large number of non-professional manufacturers in China have entered the market, resulting in a vicious price war. Geothermal integrators and builders with mixed levels of expertise often face high operating costs and constructing units with weak heating or cooling results. Chinese pump makers have not mastered the core technologies of the pumps and are overly reliant on imports for key parts of the heat pump units. In addition, China has lagged far behind other countries in terms of geothermal power generation.

It is now up to the Chinese government to create favorable policies to support and boost the development of geothermal energy nationwide. 

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