Geothermal Energy Could Supply 800 Million People

More than 800 million people could obtain their electricity from geothermal energy, says the head of the global association for that technology.

LONDON, England, UK, 2001-05-25 [] “This is possible with a strong enough commitment on the parts of decision makers,” says Phillip Wright, president of the International Geothermal Association. The 30 to 40 million people who currently derive power from geothermal resources could be increased by a factor or 10 or 20 using current or near-term technology. “If we are to dramatically accelerate geothermal utilization worldwide, we must convince the decision makers in government agencies, in legislative bodies, in regulatory bodies, in organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, in environmental advocacy organizations, and also convince the general public to make a strong commitment in support of increased utilization of geothermal energy,” he says in a presentation on the EnergyResource2001 internet conference. “With enough commitment, it will happen, and absent this commitment, it will not.” “Geothermal energy utilisation has grown remarkably over the past half century, with innovation in applications for both electrical power generation and such direct uses as district heating, greenhouse heating, spas and bathing and for many other uses as well,” he explains. In 1975, 1,300 MW of geothermal electricity generation capacity was installed in ten countries. By last year, capacity had increased to 7,974 MW in 21 countries, with output reaching 49,000 GWh per year. IEA statistics indicate that geothermal provides only 0.4 percent of the world’s electricity, and only 1,000 MW of the 75,000 MW of capacity added each year in developing countries comes from renewables. The Global Environmental Facility says that $40 million of its $3 billion in energy investments is for geothermal projects. “To me, these figures are sobering,” says Wright. “Although geothermal energy utilization continues to grow, and we can and should take credit for this growth, it is apparent that we have a long, long way to go before it can truly be said that we are having a substantial effect on replacing the burning of fossil fuels with geothermal energy.” The major competition to increased use of geothermal are fossil fuels, which he says are not depleting, and he predicts “substantial competition” from the fossil fuels if the world is to transition to the greater use of renewables. “Our problem is how to dramatically increase the utilization of geothermal energy,” he notes. “We can not be content with a growth rate of a few hundred megawatts of electrical power or a few hundred megawatts of direct-heat usage per year. We must find a way to bring into use thousands of electrical and thermal megawatts per year. We must accept this challenge as our mission!” The environmental benefits and low lifecycle costs of geothermal are not recognized, and there are no penalties for emissions of global warming gases. “Without penalties reflected in the energy marketplace, pollution will continue and even grow, along with growing damage to the environment, ecosystems, and human health,” he notes. “What can be done about world markets that do not value the environment?” “At the present time, there is little political will in most industrialized nations, especially in the world’s largest economy, the United States, to implement dramatic changes.” Geothermal is growing most rapidly in countries where the government has made a strong commitment to support it, ranging from Iceland where 90 percent of buildings are heated by geothermal energy, to the Philippines, where 26 percent of electricity comes from geothermal. The EnergyResource2001 online conference is sponsored by the World Energy Council, RMR and the European Forum for Renewable Energy Sources.
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