Sunday, June 29, 2008

Exploring southeast Asia's geothermal potential


Indonesia and the Philippines need help. And not because they lack the geothermal energy capacity: No, quite simply, it's because they're having trouble accessing it. The two Asian countries, both of which are located in the geothermally-active Pacific Ring of Fire, are increasingly turning to this vast, untapped source of power as rising oil prices and a dilapidated power infrastructure begin to exact their toll on their economies.

According to Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute (and a frequent contributor to TH), Indonesia could "run its economy entirely on geothermal energy and has not come close to tapping the full potential."

mayon volcano philippines
Image from Sir Mervs

The challenges facing a successful geothermal deployment
Inevitably, of course, a list of the usual suspects -- costs, red tape, technological requirements -- crops up in the Reuters piece. Some of the other challenges, however, are more specific to the island nations:

"Indonesia's Bedugul project, set among volcanoes on the Hindu enclave of Bali, aims to develop up to 175 MW of power, or roughly half of the resort island's needs. But the project is now on hold because local residents fear it could damage a sacred area and affect water supplies from the nearby lakes.

In the Philippines, currently the world's second-biggest geothermal producer behind the United States, one of the main obstacles to developing the reserves is the high acidity associated with active volcanoes, which can corrode the pipes."

The Philippines' acidity dilemma
The acidity problem in particular is proving to be a tough nut to crack. Many of the geothermal fields that could be tapped are still acidic, making it difficult for the Philippines to boost its existing capacity. The country's goal is to raise its capacity from 1,931 megawatts to 3,131 megawatts by 2013, which would allow it to overtake the U.S. Advocates are also pressing the government to provide more clarity and financial incentives to encourage further investment in the sector, which currently supplies 18 percent of the country's energy needs.

Tapping into Indonesia's vast potential
The need for more investment is even more acute in Indonesia, which only supplies 850 megawatts of an estimated 27,000 megawatt geothermal potential (about 3 percent of its current power capacity). Local energy firms are partnering with large corporations, like Chevron (which, perhaps surprisingly, is the world's largest private geothermal producer), to unlock their country's untapped potential.

More favorable legislation, in addition to eligibility for carbon credits, could help make such large investments more alluring. If anything, continually rising gas prices will put an onus expanding capacity.

Via ::Reuters: Geothermal-rich SE Asia struggles to tap earth's power (news website)

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