At the Geothermal Energy Association conference (GEA) in New York, many compelling presentations conveyed the benefits of this relatively obscure renewable energy source. Its benefits go beyond simply limiting harmful emissions, which are largely associated with conventional energies. Geothermal energy supplies a consistent source of electricity, unlike some other renewable energies, which makes it attractive to investors. Despite high capital costs due to exploration of geothermal sources, operating costs for geothermal remain low. This is due to not requiring fuel after the power plant is constructed.
The high cost of renewable energy is a common argument against building such power plants in developed countries, and this misconception also keeps many investors away. Yet, at the GEA conference it was shown that even lesser developed countries, such as Kenya (202 MW of installed geothermal) and El Salvador(204 MW), have already begun to install significant amounts of geothermal. Furthermore, if the levelized cost of a power plant is taken into account, including capital and operating costs, geothermal energy is the cheapest source apart from wind; the latter being an intermittent source. One must wonder why many more developed countries have not yet taken to this kind of energy?
Is it a Reliable Energy Source?
Geothermal energy is a renewable energy found abundantly around the globe. The technology takes advantage of the earth’s subterranean thermal energy. It has been used to produce heat for humans for thousands of years (think Roman bathhouses). Using geothermal energy for electricity began in Italy in 1904 in a plant in operation since then.
Today, twenty-four countries around the world employ geothermal energy to produce energy on a large scale. Total geothermal energy used worldwide is estimated to be 11,224 MW (GEA 2012). The top four countries utilizing geothermal are the U.S.(3,386 Megawatts), Philippines(1,904 MW), Indonesia(1,222 MW), Mexico(958), and Italy(883 MW). These numbers are not small considering it takes 1-2 Megawatts to power 1,000 homes. Yet, geothermal electrical energy in the U.S.only accounts for about 3% of all its renewable energy sources. However, an additional 5,150-5,523MW are under commission or “in the pipeline” (GEA estimate).