Walk into any panel discussion at a geothermal power event and you will often hear about barriers hindering geothermal development. In spite of the obstacles, the geothermal industry has grown and adapted to adversity, and it is unfortunate when more attention is not given to geothermal power’s technological accomplishments and the long-term potential. Today, 73 countries across the globe are actively engaged with the geothermal energy sector, showing that more governments, utilities, and industry stakeholders are recognizing the long-term value geothermal power can bring to their power systems.
As has been proven time and time again, geothermal power is one of the most cost effective, reliable, and flexible forms of renewable energy. It provides an answer to energy demands for a climate-conscious future that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to nearly zero, minimize land impact, and provide reliable power generation lasting for half a century or more. Other key benefits of global geothermal include its low ancillary and integration costs, its flexibility as an on-demand firm power source, and the economic stimulus geothermal power plants brings to rural communities where they are often located.
Just a few years ago, many countries were only beginning to explore the idea of using geothermal power, but now 73 countries are actually tendering property for development or are engaged in some stage of exploration. For comparison, GEA reported in 2005 that new or additional geothermal power development was underway in some 15 countries, and by 2007 this number had risen to 40. Looking at projects in the pipeline, the U.S. Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) recently identified over 27 GW of economical geothermal power spread across nearly 700 projects that could be used to generate electricity. The statistics show the geothermal industry has regularly put several hundred (300-800) MW online each year for last few decades, with a steady, average growth rate of around 3-4 percent in installed capacity per year (see Figure 1).
In response to steady opportunities abroad, more many geothermal companies are entering the globalizing marketplace. Companies that for years only operated within their own borders are now buying or leasing land in foreign countries, opening business negotiations, or exploring for resource abroad.
The globalization of the market was apparent at the recent 2013 GRC Annual Meeting and GEA Geothermal Energy Expo in Las Vegas. This is the industry’s major annual event, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development supported delegations from Turkey and East Africa, respectively. Presentations in the Expo hall featured delegates from several countries seeking to develop their geothermal power potential. GEA also held a standing-room-only dialogue with U.S. companies on exporting goods and services to key world markets.
International visitors at the GEA’s Expo introduced their contributions and commented on the global industry as a whole. At an event where some U.S. companies have worked to create decades-long bonds, presenters commented on the need for that type of long-term partnership among geothermal markets around the world. Installed geothermal capacity is expected to surpass 12,000 MW globally, and such partnerships could help to ensure that the ~27 GW now actively being pursued will lead to power plant generation over the next decade.
Despite the trying times of a global recession, the geothermal sector is full of innovation. Here are some examples around the world:
- New technologies are frequently tested as developers learn to work with lower temperature resources and manipulate fields with Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology. Recent work in Australia has seen a successful trial EGS plant whose developers are now hoping to take commercial.
- In the U.S., developers are connecting with local manufacturing and business to provide power directly to customers when PPAs with power system operators are not available. This flexibility indicates the strength and resilience of the geothermal industry as it adapts to new challenges posed by a global economy recovering from a recession where weak demand for new electricity is a reality in the developed world.
- In East Africa, Asia, and South America, some countries have announced specific geothermal targets for their energy goals. This creates a new demand for geothermal engineering services and parts manufactures or suppliers that might have only focused only on North American and Asian Pacific markets a decade ago.
So despite barriers, geothermal power has accomplished significant expansion and innovation since the 1960s era of dry-steam geothermal technology. Regardless of the economic recession, oil crises, and booms and busts, geothermal power continues adapting to adversity, consistently building new power plants, and expanding to more countries around the globe.
Geothermal experts along with GEA staff will discuss the globalization of the industry in a panel discussion at the co-located Renewable Energy World North America and Power-Gen International Conference and Expo in Orlando this November 12-14. Looking to next year, GEA will hold an International Geothermal Energy Forum & Expo in Washington, DC in April of 2014, and through these and various other initiatives, continues supporting its member companies in their increased international work.