The Earth’s heat offers a clean and steady source of electricity, though it doesn’t come cheap.
An alternative to fossil fuels, geothermal has potential far beyond Indonesia. It could help tame global warming by producing copious amounts of renewable energy. The United Nations estimates global reserves at about 200 gigawatts—double the total capacity of all U.S. nuclear power plants. Yet despite decades of effort, only 6.5 percent of that potential has been tapped.
Indonesia’s story explains why.
Volcanoes Offer Peril and Promise
A chain of more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia has dozens of active volcanoes—more than any other country. Those volcanoes offer the nation a potent energy source via deep underground reservoirs of hot water that seeps out of molten rock. Power plants can extract steam from those reservoirs and use it to turn turbines that generate electricity. […]
Indonesia currently produces the third largest amount of geothermal power, after the U.S. and the Philippines. Still, it’s tapping less than 5 percent of its potential 29-gigawatt capacity. It has 62 projects under way, and if all get built, Indonesia could overtake the Philippines by the end of this year and the U.S. in another decade or two, according to a 2015 industry analysis by the Washington-based Geothermal Energy Association. (See related blog post: “Nicaragua Looks to Geothermal for Energy Independence.”)
“Its resources are so startlingly good,” says Paul Brophy, president of EGS Inc., a California-based firm that recently did consulting work for Indonesia’s government on the geothermal industry.
The country, aiming to triple geothermal output from 1.4 to 4.9 gigawatts by 2019and to hit 10 gigawatts by 2025, is trying to fast-track projects.
Last year it amended a law to stop defining geothermal development as “mining” and thus allow work in protected forests, where many resources are located. The revision also shifts project approval from local to federal officials.
“That’s critical,” Brophy says, noting that the central government has more geothermal expertise.
Implementing the new provisions will take time, says Josh Nordquist of U.S.-based Ormat Technologies, which has invested in geothermal projects in Indonesia. Doing so could be a “real burden” for the government, he says, but adds, “I believe in the end it will work.” […]”<