Geothermal experts featured in “The Rise of Geothermal in the African Rift Valley” panel, one of several dynamic presentations held during the 2016 International Geothermal Showcase.
Look for more photos next week of the showcase at GEA’s Flickr Page
By Allie Nelson
Extensive global interest in geothermal development was echoed in last week’s 2016 International Geothermal Showcase in Washington, D.C., a premier event for networking, collaborating, and spreading awareness of geothermal developments both national and abroad. With dynamic panelists discussing topics from regional projects to financing to new technologies, presenters shared their knowledge to an audience of over 200 attendees, representing 40 countries spanning the globe, indicative of geothermal’s wide appeal and immense international potential.
The Showcase closely followed the December 2015 launch of the Global Geothermal Alliance (GGA), which brought together 40 countries and 26 implementation partners united by an ambitious goal to increase installed geothermal capacity sixfold by the 2030s. GGA’s goal was discussed by keynote speaker Deputy Director-General of IRENA, Sakari Oksanen. Oksanen believes geothermal will prosper and that in order to “combat climate change – [we] must scale up geothermal development.”
According to Oksanen, geothermal has a major role to play in the growth of the renewable energy sector. He stated the unifying challenge was installing 5 GW internationally per year: “Growing by 5 GW per year calls for collective action.” The Global Geothermal Alliance will spearhead this, as “geothermal energy is a key part of the sustainable energy future.”
Tim Williamson representing the US Department of State announced that the GGA’s Draft Action Plan would be available for public input in the next few weeks. GEA will help circulate the draft to those interested in constructive input.
Senator Dean Heller (R-Nevada), a champion for geothermal energy in the U.S., gave rousing remarks. Heller harbors a vision of geothermal’s future: “I want to see the day Reno is powered only by geothermal and solar energy. I want to make sure that my grandchildren will never have to put another dollar into a gas pump.” He also promised to work this year to enact into law a long-term incentive for geothermal comparable to that recently provided solar. “It will be a priority,” the Senator said.
At the showcase, the major stakeholders of the geothermal industry were represented, from development banks to developers to IRENA and the UN Energy Program. Panelists shared their expertise with talks focused on exciting geothermal developments, new opportunities in the international market, innovative technology like Enhanced Geothermal Systems, and dynamic investment sources that could fund the future of the geothermal industry.
One highlight was a presentation by Paul von Hirtz of Thermochem, who covered geothermal in Indonesia, which currently has 1400 MW of geothermal installed and operating, 750 MW coming online, and 2450 MW under late planning stages. Indonesia has the largest geothermal potential of any nation, and 4640 MW will be installed in the next few years. By 2024, Indonesia is on track to generate 550 TWh/year, making it the nation with the world’s leading planned geothermal capacity, surpassing the current leader – the United States.
Another rising star of geothermal is Kenya, an African renewable energy leader represented by Albert Mugo of KenGen, whose company has experienced great success in Olkaria. Still, Mugo said there was still a wealth of untapped energy: “Across the Kenyan Rift Valley, there is a huge geothermal potential estimated at over 10,000 MW – we have only explored 10%.” Mugo’s statement echoed the theme of the showcase: developers, investors, and governments working in tandem to accelerate international geothermal development, moving the Global Geothermal Alliance’s goal of sixfold geothermal growth by the 2030s even closer to reality.
Participants were generally positive about the Showcase experience. “It was a great networking event,” one said. “It hit on the major topics and markets in one day,” commented another.
GEA will be making final presentations available to paid participants shortly, and following that will make them available to paid GEA members. A detailed recap of GEA events follows.
Detailed Recap of GEA Showcase Events:
EESI Briefing – Wednesday, March 16
Events began on Wednesday with a briefing on Capitol Hill sponsored by EESI, where several geothermal experts discussed industry trends to a dynamic audience. EESI’s Executive Director Carol Werner stated that geothermal is “heating up,” and that the industry and partners must work hard to keep the momentum building. She referred to the baseload power as a “long-time stepchild” in the renewable energy industry and highlighted the need to change its status by conveying its virtues to the public, politicians and private investors, such as decreasing carbonization and small land usage.
Global Geothermal Alliance in Focus
Sakari Oksanen, a showcase featured speaker and Deputy Director-General of IRENA, stated that his alliance supports geothermal. “Geothermal is a work in progress,” Oksanen explained, with IRENA aiding efforts in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The Deputy Director-General stressed the importance of connecting Africa in particular via “renewable energy trading across borders.”
IRENA’s Global Geothermal Alliance was launched last December and GEA helped launch the Global Geothermal Alliance which is currently preparing is action plan. “The US has been very influential in setting it up,” Oksanen said of GGA, which brings together 40 countries and 26 implementation partners, with an action plan to be finalized this spring and considered in May, with implementation in the second half of 2016.
American Government to Play a Role
During the briefing, the American government was also highlighted as a major player in geothermal development. Ryan Mulvenon, staff for Senator Harry Reid, stated that the question of geothermal is a “test of willpower,” and that the government must play a role in creating an investment environment that benefits the industry. He also mentioned the importance of DOE’s FORGE initiative.
United Nations Aids Geothermal in Developing Regions
Representing the UN’s Environmental Program, Meseret Zemedkun spoke, bringing the perspective of a geophysicist who has worked for over two decades in Africa, overseeing many projects as an international geothermal consultant. “The key issue is that Africa is undergoing a sustained period of growth and transformation,” she explained, which entails higher energy needs and “requires sustainable energy development.” An Energy Access Gap exists, especially in sub-Saharan Africa: “The investment gap we have indicates… a high demand in energy.”
Though lacking in infrastructure in many places, Zemedkun highlighted Africa’s potential, with over 20 GW of geothermal energy potential, and pinpointed UNEP’S development objective as accelerating the growth of markets. “Countries [have already] committed to clean energy,” Zemedkun elaborated, and can be supported by energy programs and projects, climate related financing, and other venues like the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative and recently launched African Renewable Energy Initiative. “UNEP is the lead organization to coordinate environmental efforts,” Zemedkun concluded, “the development of geothermal is critical in addressing Africa’s rising population. Sustainable development will be achieved by developing sustainable energy resources like geothermal.”
Achieving Industry Goals
GEA’s Benjamin Matek went over the recently released Industry Report, in which he had measured announced international geothermal capacity of 13.3 GW, with 14.8-18.3 GW under construction. His findings were examined in parallel to the Global Geothermal Alliance’s goal to increase installed geothermal capacity sixfold by the 2030s. Much of the action needed to implement these goals is a shift in perspective: “One of the misconceptions about geothermal is that we are an old, ancient industry,” when in fact the industry is innovative and constantly changing – “There’s some type of geothermal nearly everywhere, from direct-use greenhouses to California power plants.” He concluded by addressing one of the constant questions of geothermal professionals: how to accelerate at-home and international geothermal development? Reduce risk: “One of the barriers of geothermal is high upfront risk – best policies help reduce that upfront risk,” echoing Mulvenon and Zemedkun’s sentiments about the government taking an active role in growing the geothermal industry.
State of the Industry at Home and Abroad
Doug Glaspey, President of US Geothermal, Inc., commented on the state of the industry in America and abroad: “In the US we have a flat or declining grid load – 1.1% decline in the past year… in developing nations there is a growing load with an expanding grid under development like in the US in the 20s or 30s.” Glaspey explained stalled growth at home and the rising capacity abroad – “US government incentives are short-term and unreliable – in developing nations, development is supported by country incentives and development banks, with relatively fast permitting overseas because governments want renewable energy.” In the US, exploration risks are borne by the developer while abroad, they are assumed in part by others as social benefits.
However, the US, a longtime player in the geothermal industry, does have its own market advantages like transmission infrastructure, an experienced geothermal workforce, large drilling industry, state level RPSs, and government-sponsored research programs. Glaspey concluded that to fully realize the US’s geothermal potential, our nation needs a sustained and predictable 5 year window for incentives for development that, if implemented, would allow the industry to thrive.
Jack Thirolf of Enel Green Power finished the briefing by saying “it takes tough, smart people to pull geothermal off,” which an enthusiastic audience agreed with. He explained that the “bulk of new investment is going into renewable energy” in a “strategic shift: renewables are the future” and advised that developing markets are important, which in turn was a major theme of the International Showcase.
To view EESI’s coverage of the briefing, along with a video recording of the event, follow the link below:
2016 International Geothermal Showcase – Thursday, March 17
Attendees spanning the globe woke up bright and early last Thursday to attend the 2016 International Geothermal Showcase in the nation’s capital, pausing for photo opportunities, meeting long-time friends and industry partners, and making new, valuable connections with professionals in the international geothermal workplace.
Opening remarks were delivered by Jack Hand of POWER Engineers and Jonathan Weisgall of Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
Hand stressed the importance of geothermal integration into the grid, highlighting the difference between the grid vs. the microgrid and how the industry must work with both in innovative ways. Hand stated that power quality was the key for developing the grid, which required stability to attract investors: “Geothermal fits well into the grid and is a great partner for intermittent renewables.” He explained the qualities that will allow geothermal to succeed in the future: “Geothermal needs to be stable… and must be marketed as a renewable baseload source.” Hand concluded that geothermal “needs to be marketed as long term system solution” and paired with synchronizing technology to be successful at home and abroad.
John Weisgall highlighted the Elmore plant near the Salton Sea, a case study in geothermal technology that has become a widely-referenced example, and explained how it fit in with the landscape. “Farmers can grow their crops near facilities… it has a small footprint.” In fact, geothermal may be the key to financing the restoration of an inland sea that is “virtually dead today” with a “sea level that is rapidly receding,” making it a “major environmental disaster waiting to happen.” Weisgall stated that the sea’s “baseload quality is tremendous,” and that it “could provide desalination functions,” with California’s 50% RPS providing “tremendous opportunities for geothermal.”
Sakari Oksanen, Deputy Director-General of IRENA, gave a rousing speech on geothermal that energized the audience. “The US spearheads geothermal development by many metrics,” he began. “The industry here innovates actively,” Oksanen said, and plays a large role in IRENA. “I am very pleased the American government and industry have been active in the Global Geothermal Alliance… geothermal plants can provide the highest capacity in the energy sector, on par with nuclear.” Oksanen highlighted 13 GW installed today: “The total worldwide is less than 10% of possible – this showcase will answer the question “Why is this?” Oksanen cited the reasons of global geothermal under-development as being due to policy uncertainty, licensing, infrastructure, and low awareness.
But with the help of the Global Geothermal Alliance, of which IRENA is a member, Oksanen believes geothermal will prosper in order to “combat climate change – [we] must scale up geothermal development.” IRENA aims for twofold renewables by 2030 in order to keep rising temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, a growth rate that “must happen sixfold today.” Geothermal has a major role to play in the growth of the renewable energy sector, though according to Oksanen, “massive investments are required to help geothermal achieve its growth goals.” He stated the unifying challenge was installing 5 GW internationally per year: “The geothermal industry is not huge in global terms – it faces multiple challenges – growing by 5 GW per year calls for collective action.” The Global Geothermal Alliance will spearhead this, as “geothermal energy is a key part of the sustainable energy future.”
State of Geothermal Industry in the US and Internationally – Geothermal Industry Advancements Overview
The first panel was opened by GEA’s Benjamin Matek, author of the recently released 2015 Industry Report. Matek highlighted several case examples where geothermal was succeeding, with success stories in Turkey and Kenya, with the “South Pacific on track to meet its regional goals,” and geothermal-rich Indonesia needing “50 MW per year to reach its goals.” The panel was moderated by GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell and, as in following panels, received questions from the audience, making for an educational, interactive experience.
Panelist Paul Brophy represented the International Geothermal Association and commented on industry trends: “There is a new trend in California: movement to new style of power development called community style aggregation… generation component coming away from utility companies, local jurisdictions allowed to buy power: a great opportunity for geothermal.” Brophy stressed the importance of the American geothermal industry taking advantage of community choice groups and advocating for them to choose geothermal: “In many cases the driver for jurisdictions is greenhouse gas reductions and local opportunities – we must take advantage of this new utility structure.”
Josh Nordquist of ORMAT remarked that “geothermal is the lowest cost it has been in many years and has a growth factor around the world that is insurmountable.” He highlighted value chain improvements that have increased efficiency and lowered costs: “Operating costs are as low as they’ve ever been.” He firmly stated that the “Bottom line is how much we can sell on a $/MW basis.”
Katherine Young, representing the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, focused on the Laboratory’s work “developing building blocks” where a team is trying to address land use issues by “working on developing grades and butting together maps.”
Timothy Williamson of the Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources discussed the management of energy geopolitics, which involves “working on INDCs international.” Williamson commented on Matek’s Industry Report: “I think we will double to 24 by 2022 – doubling of the first 100 years – must accelerate pace,” which may be aided by risk reduction programs that are “about to take off.” Williamson concluded that “it’s very difficult to hit the 9-10 cent price point/watt – there must be a convergence of innovation and manufacturing cycles,” but was hopeful about the Global Geothermal Alliance’s potential success: “Phase 1 will be a validation of the action plan by the end of April… We’re hopeful these engagements will be deliverable to COP22.”
Keys to Financing Geothermal Projects
Magnus Gehringer of Consent Energy LLC moderated the financial panel. Gehringer stated that “De-risking is an important part of the future of geothermal – money flows to the most attractive perceived risk-return profile.” Gehringer stressed that there must be a balance between risk and cost. One method is removing reservoir output risk during the initial development drilling phase, which will encourage the influx of private equity. Gehringer said there is a need to “put a floor on the aggregate wells,” with “threshold conditions agreed upon in advance on a well basis.” Gehringer concluded that geothermal players must “limit investor’s downside” so they “have the opportunity to reinvest their capital.”
Pierre Audinet represented the ESMAP program of the World Bank. He opened his segment with two “key words: exploration and scale-up.” His program has invested “$4 billion in developing nations in past 3 years – almost all to plants, not enough [in] exploration.” Despite investment in plants, Audinet highlighted two achievements on the exploratory front: “Global funding is indispensable to support exploration. We have managed to mobilize concessional forms of capital… enhancing exploration in developing nations around the world.” Currently, ESMAP has over $1.5 billion public and private capital leveraged. His closing remarks were pertinent: “Scaling up geothermal requires long-term commitment from all stakeholders, no quick gains. Geothermal energy development requires public intervention to absorb part of the resource risk.”
Next up was Michael Eckhart of Citigroup: “We are operating everywhere in the world under tough conditions with US ethics.” Eckhart stressed that Citigroup is client-oriented and that GEA member “Ormat has been a great client for many years.” He discussed the “ecosystem of policy around projects” that Citigroup had developed: “Renewable energy moves after countries make commitments on climate – otherwise the project will stumble.” In 2015, Citigroup had $309 billion invested in Clean Energy Projects, but Eckhart remarked that there is “not enough info about geothermal on Wall Street” and that the industry “must educate financiers.” International development, he said, faced legal challenges in doing business in different countries which needs to be addressed. He pointed out that the World Bank operates under the laws of the State of New York to address this uncertainty.
Craig O’Connor spoke on behalf of the Export-Import bank, which provides loans through its Renewable Energy Program, with terms of up to 18 years. Up to 30% local cost support is within the US scope of supply, with a capitalization of interest during construction. O’Connor provided a recent example: “Ex-Im bank approved a $1.5 million Loan Guarantee to finance the export of a Pratt and Whitney PureCycle geothermal power units.” In fact, the Renewable Energy Program provides a Working Capital Guarantee for US exporters, making its program appealing.
Coming all the way from Japan, Hiroto Kamiishi spoke on behalf of JICA and explained how the Energy and Mining Group had been involved in geothermal investments: “JICA has been extending our support in various aspects… like Kenya” including human resources development, development policy and planning, research and development, and loans to support geothermal development with concessional loans. Kamiishi concluded that “appropriate intervention by the public sector may be effective to mitigate the development risks and promote private investment for geothermal development.”
Last, Stephen Morel of OPIC spoke, which “offers private financing to catalyze private sector projects.” OPIC helps address critical development challenges, with no overhead cost to American taxpayer. Its current portfolio is $19.9 billion and OPIC “targets effectiveness… public funds should finance effectiveness in geothermal projects without crowding out sustainability.” Morel stated that “we support long-term capital at risk,” a boon to geothermal developers. He highlighted two geothermal keys, including a bankable PPA that manages dispatch and other risks, coupled with due diligence regarding power plants, land issues, legal frameworks, and the like. Morel urged geothermal developers to think ahead: “We see a lot of inefficiencies in targeting the financing too late.”
The Rise of Geothermal in the African Rift Valley
Gabriel Negatu of the African Development Bank led a dynamic panel with some of Africa’s top geothermal experts, representing a geologic treasure, the African Rift Valley, with high geothermal potential. Negatu said that the African geothermal industry had the “challenge of developing a sector and making it profitable while ensuring it benefits the social and environmental sides.” Negatu highlighted the “human challenge – the human capacity for legal and technical drafting – and infrastructure needed.” Negatu concluded that, for geothermal to succeed in the Rift Valley, “Going forward I think there is a need for innovative financing.”
Meseret Zemedkun of UNEP was the first panelist. As she explained, “UNEP mostly focuses on sustainable energy goals.” UNEP’s key issue in the region is a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. Meseret echoed Wednesday’s EESI briefing, stating that “there is no sustainable development without sustainable energy.” She detailed Africa’s geothermal rise from 2011-2016, which saw a growth of 200-600 MW, led by Kenya and Ethiopia. UNEP’s Climate Related Financing combined with “various regional development funds” will spearhead geothermal development in untapped African regions, coupled with the launch of Africa Renewable Energy International at COP21 – totaling $10 billion in investments.
Up next was Laurie Hietter of Panorama Environmental, Inc., who believes that successful geothermal strategies in Africa are a “question of communication.” Geothermal’s success in Kenya involved strategic environmental assessments, resettlement action plan, and “making sure [the] plant is compatible with the community.” Questions regarding development vary by region, in Djibouti they are “How fast can you do this?” Hietter stressed that companies “make sure you establish a relationship with the communities: your project will be there a long time.”
Albert Mugo spoke on behalf of KenGen, representing the nation leading Africa’s geothermal rise. He highlighted the “over 288 wells drilled in the Olkaria field over the years, with 653 MW of geothermal capacity in operation – it is not just where we are drilling, but the MWs we are bringing in.” Kenya has seen booming success in geothermal growth and investment, but yet more resources remain untapped: “Across the Kenyan Rift Valley, there is a huge geothermal potential estimated at over 10,000 MW – we have only explored 10%.” As for future development in Kenya? Mugo had this to say: “Traditional financing models will not take us where we want to go – we are looking at innovative financing”
The last African panelist was Sahale Fekede of the Ethiopian Ministry of Water, Irrigation, and Electricity: “In the past 10-15 years we have been trying to expand our energy capacity… due to climate change we must diversify away from hydropower.” Ethiopia’s national goal is 100% renewable energy, and Fekede said that geothermal could be a major component of achieving this: “Geothermal is the next lowest cost operation after hydropower. We are trying to speed up the development of geothermal resources.” Ethiopia has set its geothermal goal at 5,000 MW by 2037, and 2,500 MW by 2030. Currently, 7 MW are in place. Fekede concluded that it is “important to put in place an institutional framework for geothermal in Ethiopia”
Senator Dean Heller Luncheon Keynote
GEA was honored to host geothermal champion Senator Dean Heller (R- Nevada), who gave a topical speech on the need for geothermal development and the importance of renewables in a warming climate. “Energy is one of our nation’s greatest assets … developing renewables are this country’s future,” he stressed. Heller highlighted the importance of geothermal in his home state, saying that “When it comes to geothermal energy, Reno is our Houston,” comparing oil to renewables in Nevada. “My state is becoming a national leader. I’m proud to be a part of the clean energy renaissance that is happening in the West.” Heller addressed the failure of the Omnibus bill passed at the end of last year to include geothermal in with a long-term solar ITC credit. As for the ITC tax credit, Heller promised “I am fighting to provide long-term extensions for geothermal this year. It is a top priority.” Heller has dreams for the future: “I want to see the day Reno is powered only by geothermal energy. I want to make sure that my grandchildren will never have to put another dollar into a gas pump.” In conclusion, he stressed the importance of geothermal as being a player in the national energy landscape and reaffirmed his commitment to supporting geothermal development.
Expanding Geothermal Developments in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific
Mike Long of POWER Engineers, which supports the engineering of geothermal projects, moderated the panel following lunch. Long highlighted his company’s work in Turkey, which has the sixth largest economy in Europe and has developed an effective market structure regarding geothermal. As of 2016, it is a fully private, competitive market, with a current 20% ratio to renewables. With geothermal power constituting .9% of the energy mix, it has the largest growth potential, with the government paying double for geothermal energy. Long stated that enabling factors included the market, participants, and local climate, with a compound annual growth of approximately 55%. Turkey’s geothermal market has a defined feed-in tariff and market sales certainty, with energy sold into the market under YEKDEM provisions, which eliminates the need to negotiate a separate PPA, increasing sales and certainty value.
As for Turkey’s regulatory framework, the geothermal process is established and operating, with a state-owned geologic company that assists in resource de-risking. Participants involved are a developed investment sector with active financial institutions that understand the geothermal market risk. Independent Power Producers also play a role, with strong financial balance sheets. At the local level, there is a highly developed industrial sector with a skilled labor pool and local supplies of equipment. In short, Long concluded that Turkey is well-suited for geothermal development: “Turkey has a growing energy sector with a competitive market that has a need for baseload power.”
Paul von Hirtz of Thermochem covered geothermal in Indonesia, which currently has 1400 MW of geothermal installed and operating, 750 MW coming online, and 2450 MW under late planning stages. Geothermal plants are concentrated in Java and Sumatra, with expansion into Sulawesi. Hirtz explained that Java has the highest population, and therefore the highest energy demands. Overall, 4640 MW will be installed in the next few years, upping 2015’s installed capacity substantially. Geothermal in Indonesia constitutes 4-5% of generation by source, with a growth rate of 8.4% per year. By 2024, Indonesia is on track to generate 550 TWh/year, making it the nation with the world’s leading planned geothermal capacity. Hirtz said that in Indonesia, geothermal energy is considered a strategic domestic asset, and that by 2025 geothermal will most likely contribute 5-7% of power generation. Still, there is a need for education, local community engagement, and a view shift from “geothermal as a threat to environment to an opportunity for ecotourism” to fully realize Indonesia’s geothermal potential.
Dr. Kifle Kahsai represented the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Geoscience Division. Kahsai stated that “Work has been done for many years but due to isolation and economic demand [in the Pacific]… there have been no activities for a long time.” Due to a large exclusive economic zone, “to work in these areas is not easy. Transportation is very difficult.” Another major issue is small markets for geothermal, where 95% of energy comes from fossil fuels. Still, Pacific nations in or near the Ring of Fire have high geothermal potential: “If Vanuatu and other small nations change to geothermal, it will bolster economic growth.”
Lastly, Luca Xodo represented EXERGY SpA, stating that “wherever there is a resource with some MWs, we try to deploy our specialized technology.” Xodo explained that “Exergy solutions enable more convenient development plans,” allowing the development of feasible low enthalpy and small scale geothermal plants in Europe. EXERGY SpA’s business model involves both equity and technology partnerships, streamlining European geothermal development.
Geothermal Growth in Mexico, the Americas, & the Caribbean
Doug Glaspey of US Geothermal, Inc. moderated the American developments panel. He provided his company’s example of Latin American development with the Guatemalan El Cebillo geothermal project, saying “You can’t discount anything” in regards to working with the local community, where they worked with a Mayan priestess to have the site blessed. Glaspey stated that Guatemala has an experienced mining and drilling industry, mainly involving shallow drilling projects that should incorporate communities. Guatemalan projects carry a 5-7 year contract average, and it is difficult to obtain a 10-15 year PPA, which may make it harder to develop geothermal in the region. Another obstacle are the constantly changing 4-year election cycles with rotating officials. Still, Glaspey is hopeful: in Guatemala, “…people are industrious – the in-between class is growing, with a rising power demand… it is a great place to work for the geothermal industry.”
Alexander Richter represented Green Energy Geothermal, focusing on the Caribbean. Richter stated that there are “a lot of possibilities to develop geothermal and provide green power around the world,” explaining that low-temperature binary systems allow geothermal technology to expand to countries that are not volcanic. Still, “flash is still very much dominant worldwide.” Richter said that the industry “must look at electricity demands of countries when developing,” as the power demand for geothermal in Caribbean nations is not that great. Richter highlighted the importance of looking into the Caribbean with innovative solutions for further geothermal development.
Kara Dewhurst, sociologist for the Dewhurst Group, presented her research on corporate social responsibility, or CSR, and how it pertains to the industry and business world at large: “It’s really the new buzzword – everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon.” CSR is typically defined as voluntary activities that exceed legal obligations, but Dewhurst chose to “define it as activities that improve the environment and communities.” Her research focused on impact-risk mitigation as a form of CSR: “It’s a guiding philosophy for me – do no harm… even impacts in the short-term should be taken into consideration.” Dewhurst believes that “CSR can be built into the planning process… it should be proactive rather than reactive.”
There is a current assumption that CSR is reactive in environmentally harmful industries like mining, but Dewhurst advocates for CSR to be taken into account when developing geothermal projects: “What’s better for the environment is better for people… but we should decouple social and environmental impacts.” Dewhurst listed several negative social impacts geothermal projects can produce, like displacement or dispute over land rights, indigenous rights, lack of consultation, disputes over employment and economic benefits. In conclusion, Dewhurst stated that the “economies of most Latin American countries have relied on natural resources… this has not transitioned into social benefits.”
Juan Luarca of Mexican Grupo Dragon discussed private geothermal projects in his country, covering developments and challenges in the region. He was followed by Bruce Cutright of Thermal Energy Partners, who focused on the island nation Nevis. Cutright’s main question was “is the government capable of paying the electric bill at the end of the day… will the investments pay off?” Last year, they aggressively sought investors, now have now been brought on board, including Turboden. According to Cutright, the project is moving forward and is promising: “Now they have stabilized electrical prices and there is a huge influx of money they don’t have to spend.” At the end of the day, Cutright said, it is “all about the economics… [and the] need to transition away from fossil fuels to reliable renewable energy.” In Nevis, local government support is critical, with a 9 MW binary plant having a projected operation date of December 2017.
Concluding the panel was Adriana Valencia, representing the Inter-American Development Bank. Valencia stated that geothermal capacity in Latin America totals over 1000 MW, with Mexico the fourth largest producer in the world. In addition, “Andean countries have great potential and virtually no development” due to their geologic features. IDB established a regional geothermal training center in El Salvador: Valencia stated that IDB has the “intention to make this a training center for the region… in total, 83 professionals have been trained.” Projects financed include Guanacaste, Costa Rica, Las Pailas II and Borinquen I. IDB and partners are financing the development and construction of 110 MW in total. In addition, they support the Sustainable Energy Facility for the Eastern Caribbean, totaling $29.43 million. “The whole facility is being executed by the Caribbean Development Bank,” said Valencia. Finally, the GeoSmart Facility will provide financial support to public sector actors, as the “support of partners is essential… we need to have various partners involved.”
New Technology Developments & Future Prospects
The final panel of the day was moderated by Susan Hamm from the Geothermal Technologies Office. Hamm stated that the goal of GTO “is to make geothermal a diverse, widely available energy source… spanning the spectrum from deep direct use to EGS.” Hamm explained the FORGE program, wherein EGS creates a geothermal system: it “break up rocks and inserts water where it may not exist… EGS could provide up to 10% of national energy needs.” Under FORGE, the GTO selected five isolated sites, with “teams working in parallel to demonstrate viability of their sites.” Teams will be down-selected in subsequent phases until the FORGE project reaches Phase 3: Implementation. As for risk-reduction, Hamm believes the “government can help with high-riskiness and take it on upfront.”
Susan Petty spoke on behalf of AltaRock Energy, discussing the transition of coal to geothermal. Currently in the US, 50,000 MW of aging coal-fired generation needs to be repowered or shut down due to not meeting current emission standards. There exists the possibility of using coal plant wastewater as EGS fluid. As Petty explained, EGS is a way to develop geothermal “without a natural circulating system.” Legislative changes may also spur the coal to geothermal transition: “If we implement CPP and adhere to COP21 – even more coal fire power plants must retire.” Now may be the best time pursue this with “drilling costs down 30%” due to fossil fuel trends, making these projects feasible.”
Rob Podgourney from the Idaho National Laboratory covered water purification driven by geothermal heat, which constitutes a novel treatment process supported by the Department of Energy. Timothy Reinhardt from GTO as well discussed mineral recovery projects: “Rare earth and near rare earth elements may be prevalent in geothermal brines… The goal is to enhance revenue stream for geothermal operations.” To end an exciting day, Ann Robertson-Tait of GeothermEx discussed Enhanced Geothermal Systems and how they may change the industry, concluding a dynamic geothermal event.