“The worldwide market is moving towards double-digit growth,” said Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) during the organization’s recent International Geothermal Showcase in Washington, DC. “There’s lots of exciting things going on. Several years ago there were projects in 24 countries, this year almost 700 projects are under development in 76 countries across the globe.”
What is especially interesting in this context, is how researchers in Iceland have found a new way to transform the heat generated by volcanic magma into electricity. The advancement could be especially valuable in Iceland, that has capitalized to derive a quarter of its electricity production and around 90 per cent of household heating from geothermal energy.
The Icelandic know-how may be creating interesting possibilities for high-growth in utilization of geothermal resources worldwide. Currently, the main interest seems to be from the United States (USA). In the western USA, geothermal prospects are on the rise, especially in Nevada and California. California already has the largest geothermal field in the world, the Geysers, which contains 22 geothermal power plants amid 45-square miles in the Mayacamas Mountains north of San Francisco.
With greenhouse gases rising just as sharply as energy production, climate change is creating a similar global push for a paradigm shift to clean, sustainable sources in the electricity sector. In all this, geothermal has a powerful role to play. Unlike intermittent renewable power sources, such as wind and solar, geothermal can provide consistent energy 24-hours a day, making it an appealing baseload replacement for coal and nuclear power that are responsible for keeping the power supply stable and reliable.
While electricity-generating geothermal technology is advancing, the bulk of the time and cost expended goes to exploration and drilling for the resource. Recent advances in oil and gas drilling, which can translate over to geothermal sensing, exploration and drilling techniques, are helping to facilitate innovation in the area. And because geothermal energy is not intermittent like wind or solar power, which generate when the wind blows or sun shines, it can fill the role that has long been played by fossil fuels and serve as a baseload power source. That not only helps to lower emissions but provides needed stability to the electric grid.
Internationally, the geothermal industry is growing fast. The new GEA report (pdf) released at the recent GEA showcase found that there were almost 700 projects under development in dozens of countries across the globe. With the international power market booming, geothermal showed a sustained growth rate of around five per cent. And the best thing about this expansion of geothermal energy, is that it competes with other energy sources on a pure cost basis.