Where does Geothermal Fit into the Energy Landscape?
There has been much discussion about geothermal energy lately and just how it fits into the rest of the renewable energy landscape. As the fourth largest renewable (behind solar, wind, and hydro), geothermal energy is an often overlooked source of power that runs the gamut in terms of utilization.
Much of the outlook for the industry is positive as it begins to expand, but geothermal still may have a difficult time finding its place among the others.
As it Stands
So, where does geothermal stand currently? The answer to that question depends on where you look.
While the U.S. has the most installed geothermal, it accounts for only 0.3% of national energy generation. Still, it makes up 29% of global geothermal generation. The Philippines are a close second, with other countries such as Indonesia and Mexico coming up next.
The clear world leader in terms of actual utilization is Iceland, however, as geothermal accounts for 30% of its national power generation. The country has incredible geothermal resources, as it’s highly active tectonically.
Writing for Forbes, contributor Ken Silverstein believes that the advantage of geothermal is its lack of dependence on weather conditions, such as sunlight and wind. Silverstein also notes the importance of utility support for geothermal, some of which is currently in place and more of which is currently in various legislatures.
California is taking steps toward utilizing more geothermal with SB 1139. It would require utilities to purchase a certain percentage of geothermal energy each year.
“This bill would require, no later than December 31, 2024, each retail seller of electricity to procure a proportionate share, as determined by the Energy Commission, of a statewide total of 500 megawatts of electricity generated by specified baseload geothermal powerplants,” it reads.
Criticism has been levied against the bill and other similar initiatives, Silverstein notes.
“Critics say that all energy forms should compete on a level field and that the additional portfolio requirements distort the marketplace,” he writes.
While this battle plays out in the U.S., geothermal is taking bigger strides nationwide. An MIT study shows that 100,000 MW of geothermal could be produced in the next 50 years—a number that’s 2,000 times greater than the geothermal consumption of the U.S. in 2005.
On the world stage, places such as Indonesia are trying to ramp up geothermal consumption through energy-friendly policies. The country has massive geothermal potential, though is currently seeing it go grossly underutilized. Its current energy profile consists mostly of coal and oil.
"Geothermal energy will ensure energy independence. We are increasingly optimistic because this is a renewable energy that can replace oil, which will lead to increased energy independence," Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR) Deputy Speaker Pramono Anung said.
The key change in policy is a change in classification for geothermal exploration. Previously, it was considered a form of mining, though that is no longer the case. The country believes this will be a boon to the industry.
Where it Will Go
As we’ve already discussed, the future of the geothermal industry looks bright. It’s not without its critics, however. While Indonesia recently moved the mining classification from geothermal exploration, some think that it’s not all that different. The Economist believes geothermal is the new fracking. It calls out “enhanced geothermal systems” as not dissimilar to the controversial oil recovery technique.
“The industry may dislike the comparison, but EGS is geothermal fracking. Millions of gallons of water and chemicals are injected into mostly vertical wells at relatively high pressure, and the combination of cold-meets-hot, pressure and chemistry shears the deep, hot rock,” The Economist writes. “This creates new ‘fracture networks’ through which water can be pumped, heated and sent back to the surface to generate power. Conventional geothermal wells cost at least $5 m to develop, and about half fail. The new technique can reduce the failure rate and extend the size and life of existing geothermal fields. In time, think EGS fans, it will allow geothermal fields to be established wherever there is suitable hot rock.”
Despite these criticisms, the industry is still pushing ahead. Geothermal is taking a greater hold on the western U.S. and companies like Nevada’s Ormat are looking to make that happen.
It remains to be seen where geothermal ends up, but for now, it looks like it’s on its way to finding a place in the energy landscape.
UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC
The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.
While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.
"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."
The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.
- Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
- Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
- Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
- Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
- Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.
In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies.
Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”
Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society.
Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."
Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).
Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.