If sufficient geothermal resources are found to be present at the sites, he believes that each project could eventually save the local population valuable money — but warned that, in order to maximise these benefits, government's will need to develop resources themselves, or negotiate a fair price with a responsible developer “that puts some value to the community and supports the growth of it and stimulates its development.”
"Geothermal is different from other renewable energy [like] solar and wind because in runs 24/7, [and] not as the wind blows or the sun shines," he added.
Both the Dominica and Montserrat projects went out to tender on the international market, but Birkisson pointed out that IDC came up with the best offer. In his view, this was largely due to its ability to develop an “integrated project management solution," which involves the company "bringing in rig and crew,” sourcing and delivering all the necessary materials to the project and drilling the complete well, as well as carrying out the individual services needed for this type of project, such as cementing, casing running, logging and finally erecting well testing equipment to test the outcome. However, although the projects rely heavily on IDC expertise and equipment at these early stages, Birkisson stresses that the ultimate aim is to transfer ownership to the island's themselves.
"These islands are in need of electricity from the renewable resources they seem to have. They should be guided to develop it and keep the ownership of it to use this to support the community on these islands and possibly neighbouring islands," he said.
"Imagine when they can cool the day's catch of fish — that will eventually open up the opportunity to process and export fish and create value. Something that is not possible with current electricity made from expensive diesel. [Other] examples of community’s that benefit from cheap local geothermal electricity [include] Iceland and the Azores," he added.
For Birkisson, a key advantage of the Caribbean for geothermal energy developers is that it is located near an area where continental plates either drift apart or crush into each other, which can create an exploitable geothermal resource.
"The Islands can be self sufficient with local power, and power independence is the biggest issue of all nations. I sure hope Iceland Drilling can, with its geothermal expertise, contribute to the economic development of this best form of renewable energy," he said.
Although he believes that there is a brighter future for the exploitation geothermal energy than many people realise, he admited that the biggest hurdle “is the exploration cost to prove the resource.” In this light, he argued that government money and international funds are needed to mitigate the financial risk and cover the initial costs in the form of soft loans in case exploratory projects prove unsuccessful.
"Given the significance of the exploration phase, one should be careful in selecting reservoir and geological advisors. Also, an experienced drilling contractor can be of value, especially if the expertise of one is allowed as part of the team," he said.
In another Caribbean project, Icelandic company Reykjavik Geothermal, alongside Canadian power company Emera, is currently evaluating the possibility of developing a 10– to 20-MW geothermal power plant in St. Vincent. Gunnar Örn Gunnarsson, chief operating officer at Reykjavik Geothermal, explained that the island “has a very active volcano and there is a high probability of developing a geothermal power plant there successfully.”
Surface exploration work has just been conducted and although it will take several months to analyze the data to be able to predict the quality and size of the resource, the company is optimistic that the results will be positive.
"Today, St. Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) is relying on diesel generated energy — and the cost is very high. The aim of this project is to get a reliable, sustainable, renewable geothermal energy that will have some cost benefits. But for SVG it remains to be seen if such a project is viable as it is too early to tell," said Gunnarsson. "The technology to be used in the project has not been decided on, something that is only done after you have steam on the ground after drilling, when you know more about the resource. But the usual solution for high enthalpy resource is a single flash condenser unit."
Looking ahead, Gunnarsson is convinced that the future of geothermal energy in the Caribbean “is very bright,” and he believes that there is a “high probability that a good portion of all energy needs on the islands could come from geothermal resources, which with interconnection could benefit many of the islands.”
Images courtesty IDC