The utilization of hot steam from geothermal resources to generate electricity has the potential to diversify the global energy mix and enhance all our efforts to address climate change and global warming, says Magnus Gehringer, Senior Energy Specialist at the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). “Our dependence on fossil fuels has lasted too long and we will reach the point when we can no longer continue on this path, due to economical, financial and environmental issues. We have to look for other ways to produce electrical power.”
Geothermal power generation has immense benefits but little has been done to assist developing countries establish geothermal projects. Worldwide, geothermal power generation has reached a total capacity of over 11 gigawatts in over twenty countries. The United States of America leads with over 3,000 megawatts of geothermal power installed, with rapid expansion planned.
The benefits of geothermal energy are as follows:
- being environmentally friendly due to low GHG emissions, and suitable for carbon credits,
- reducing the countries’ spending of foreign currency for the import of fossil fuels,
- providing base load power, which is especially needed by countries that rely on hydro power and ideal for rural and off-grid applications,
- having a very high reliability and availability factor, and
- low power generation costs per produced kWh compared to all other renewable technologies.
Several factors have hindered countries from developing their geothermal resources. The main issue is the high upfront costs for exploration and drillings. The initial exploration is vital, to confirm the availability of the resource and for soliciting the interest of the private sector to build and operate power plants. Other issues affecting the development of geothermal plants are the lack of technical capacity and the lack of geothermal resource data.
To-date, the World Bank has mainly supported Kenya, Indonesia and the Philippines, in establishing geothermal power generation, either by providing technical assistance or funds for the project, Gehringer told government officials and policymakers at a recent Global Geothermal Forum held in Washington, D.C. in May 2010. “ESMAP is now assisting Central American countries develop geothermal power facilities that are competitive in regional electricity markets. The countries are Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. We are also planning to assist several East African countries develop their geothermal power,” he said. The effort is part of ESMAP’s Renewable Energy Market Transformation Initiative – REMTI, launched in 2009.
Gehringer’s presentation on ESMAP’s geothermal strategy and program highlighted ESMAP’s work in helping countries build institutional capacity to develop, plan and implement strategies to deploy geothermal power. The forum was sponsored by the Geothermal Energy Association.