Last week, geothermal consulting company Hot Dry Rocks released a geothermal map of Australia that shows the country’s incredible potential for tapping its geothermal energy supplies. The map, which was developed in conjunction with Google.org, shows that if Australia were to only use 2% of its geothermal potential using today’s technology, it could produce 395,092 MW – about ten times more than Australia’s total coal and gas production.
One of a major benefits for using geothermal energy in Australia is that, as you can see from the map above, it’s generally available everywhere. Australia has some of the highest temperatures in its known near-surface rocks anywhere in the world and its geothermal potential is distributed over the entire country.
“This is clean, renewable energy that is realistically accessible today with existing drilling and power conversion technologies,” HDR’s Managing Director Graeme Beardsmore said. “Not only that, EGS has the potential to provide base load power; it is one of the most abundant sources of renewable energy available and is more than sufficient to replace current coal and gas power supply.”
The Canberra Times has a similar post focusing on potential in the ACT - Thermal might one day power the capital.
The ACT could one day generate its own power with up to 430 megawatts of renewable geothermal energy, according to new data issued today.
Australian geothermal energy consultancy Hot Dry Rocks has released figures showing that the rocks up to 5km beneath Australia's surface store enough heat to theoretically provide 85 million megawatts, equivalent to the country's current energy needs for the next 50,000 years.
In the ACT, 430 megawatts could be produced by extracting 20 per cent of the estimated heat energy over the next 30 years.
The Climate Spectator has a rather more detailed take on the story - Can geothermal cut it in Australia?.
In the geothermal industry, they are fond of painting the big picture. For years, the selling point of the technology was that if just 1 per cent of the superheated rocks that lay deep under the surface in Australia could be exploited, then it could power the country for 26,000 years.
That estimate was based on the assumption that the industry could extract every last drop of heat, which of course would never happen. It’s like solar’s claim that the sun could power Australia’s needs 10,000 times over if all its radiation could be harnessed, or coal that it could continue to power the world for another 250 years. It’s either technically not feasible, or not particularly desirable.
The latest geothermal industry estimates – a collaboration between consulting group Hot Dry Rocks and Google – try to inject a little more reality to the forecasts, but it is still comes up with a considerable number: if just 2 per cent of Australia’s technically-accessible hot dry rock potential is tapped, this would generate capacity of 395,092 MW of clean, emissions-free, renewable electricity, or almost 10 times that of the current capacity of carbon-emitting coal and gas.
That still sounds like it is more than enough, but can it be achieved? Governments have set great store by it. In some policy scenarios, geothermal makes up 20 per cent of Australia’s capacity by 2050, and the US has predicted it meeting 5 per cent of its needs. While numbers and estimates flow freely from the geothermal industry, they are yet to convince investors that its heat can too. As one executive described it, geothermal like a mis-firing sporting team, it has managed to gather the required elements without finding a way of putting them together. How it does that is one of the focal points of the industry’s annual conference in Melbourne this week.
You wouldn't know it from the languishing share prices of Australian geothermal aspirants – which has turned all but a notable few into the status of penny dreadfuls – but the global geothermal industry has been experiencing something of a boom these past five years. Its global capacity has grown to 10,500MW, and it expects this to occur again in the next five years. (Australia’s capacity is less than 0.5MW).
But while conventional hydrothermal projects in volcanic regions account for three quarters of these developments, there are no new volcanoes and hot springs to discover. The industry’s future growth lies in its ability to push the technology frontier on what are known as “enhanced geothermal systems” or EGS, hot rocks that lie deeper beneath the earth and which need considerable more encouragement to release their energy towards the earths’ surface than a New Zealand geyser.
Australia has been at the forefront of this experimental technology in the past five years, but according to Graeme Beardsmore, the head of Hot Dry Rocks, the setbacks experienced by Geodynamics with the blow-out of its Habanero well, and assorted delays elsewhere, may have pushed the industry back by three years.
“It’s frustrating that we haven’t yet managed to produce power in Australia,” Beardsmore says. And he says that the doubters will not be silenced until the first electrons have been produced. The problem is, where Australia was once at the cutting edge, the setbacks and the inability to tap government funds and attract private capital means Australia is at risk of falling behind Germany, China, or even Japan and South Korea. “We’re starting to lag behind a bit. It’s very hard to prove these things until we get investment, and it’s hard to get investment until we can prove them.”
Terry Kallis, the head of Petratherm, one of the most advanced of the geothermal aspirants, and a former chairman of the Australian Geothermal Association, agrees that the industry is caught in a Catch-22 situation. “We need to show results,” he said. Petratherm, along with Geodynamics, is nearest of all, and both hope to be producing electrons from pilot projects within 18 months. But the industry needs more than just these two projects to prove its worth.
The problem is, the industry needs finance to fund expensive drilling programs. The government’s initial funding measures have proved poorly designed, although this is now being addressed through the newly constructed Emerging Renewables Fund, and a redesign of other schemes, and could also be helped through the proposed Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Energy Minister Martin Ferguson is showing interest, and hosted senior delegates at a luncheon in Melbourne yesterday. But Kallis says the industry also needs bipartisan support for measures such as the carbon price and the CEFC, and large energy groups also need to become more engaged. ...
The HDR-Google collaboration shows that although most geothermal drilling and development is taking place in South Australia, the largest heat resources for EGS lie in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Working on its formula of extracting 2 per cent of resources of up to 300°C available at depths higher than 5000 metres, the study estimates there is 136,759MW of potential capacity in Queensland and 83,104MW in the territory. This compares to 58,541MW in SA, 55,133MW in NSW, 46,080 in WA, 12,411MW in Victoria, and 43MW in the ACT. Tasmania has an estimated 3,021MW of capacity.