Geothermal growth is on fire!

Posted by Pete Danko, EarthTechling

Global geothermal power capacity could be on its way toward doubling, according to a new industry report, as projects unfold around the world, with a number of countries closing in on putting their first geothermal power stations to work.

The Geothermal Energy Association, in its 2013 Geothermal Power: International Market Overview, said seventy countries are moving forward with nearly seven hundred projects. The group said that as of August this year, 11,765 megawatts of geothermal capacity were online – and 11,776 MW of new capacity were in the early stages of development or under construction.

Geothermal global growth

image via Geothermal Energy Association

Geothermal is well-regarded as a source of baseline energy, but has long struggled to grow due to the hit-or-miss nature (and thus high cost) of developing potential resources.

“There are so many projects moving forward that just a year or two ago were ideas on paper. This demonstrates how quickly the geothermal industry is growing internationally,” Ben Matek, the report’s author, said in a statement [PDF].

Uganda, France, Tanzania, Chile, and Rwanda were singled out as countries that should have their first operational geothermal power plants within the next few years. Elsewhere around the world, the country breaking through with new geothermal the fastest might be Kenya.

“Right now, 296 MW of the over approximately 1,000 MW of geothermal under development in Kenya are physically under construction,” the GEA said. “If all projects are completed on time Kenya will lead the world with substantial additions to their geothermal infrastructure over the next decade and become a center of geothermal technology on the African continent.”

image via Geothermal Energy Association

image via Geothermal Energy Association

Indonesia, with huge potential, is also moving forward, although perhaps less slowly than it ideally could:

Indonesia has almost 4,100 MW in the pipeline for development and 860 MW physically under construction. Indonesia ranks second for developing projects with 57 projects in some phase of development. While no more plants are expected to come online this year in Indonesia, if all the plants are finished by their publicly announced completion dates, Indonesia could reach almost 2 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2018.

The United States is the world leader in geothermal, with 3,386 MW of installed capacity as of the end of 2012 – and it has the most projects in development right now.  But much of the attention in the U.S. is now focused on a particular type of geothermal: enhanced geothermal system projects. EGS involves creating tons of tiny crevices in hot, dry rock formations. This is done by forcing pressurized fluid down into the rock and causing little earthquakes. The crevices that develop can then be filled with fluid, which can then be heated and run up from the ground, where the heat is extracted to make steam. (The fluid can then sent back down in more or less a closed loop.)

In April, the U.S. Department of Energy said an Ormat Technologies EGS project that it backed with $5.4 million (to go along with $2.6 million in private sector money) had boosted production at a Churchill County, Nev., geothermal field by 38 percent, pumping 1.7 megawatts of new power to the grid.

The 2013 Geothermal Power: International Market Overview is available online as a 35-page PDF.