Global geothermal energy use slowly edges up

Geothermal power is on the rise, at least according to the latest figures from the industry body, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA).

The GEA said that around 11,224 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity had come online by May of this year.

Around a quarter of that capacity was being generated in the U.S, which remains the world’s leading producer. But although the U.S remains out in front, the country which first developed geothermal power back in the 1960s is being caught up by global growth, which GEA said “continues to outpace the U.S by a noticeable margin.”

According to GEA’s report, three countries are experiencing a rapid expansion of geothermal: Turkey, Kenya and Indonesia. Turkey currently has 100MW of geothermal online but the Turkish Geothermal Association estimates that figure is set to rise to 500 MW by 2015. The report said the country has at least 2,000 MW of potential geothermal to exploit.

Kenya’s potential capacity is even greater — upward of 7,000 MW. At least 14 geothermal sites have been identified for development in the country and the African nation currently has 202 MW online.

With its crucial location along the “Ring of Fire” Indonesia’s geothermal potential dwarves these other two. The numerous volcanoes that cover the land mean it has 27,510 MW of untapped power. The country plans to have 5,000 MW online by 2025.

The GEA report identified a number of reason for the rise in geothermal, which included economic growth, the expansion of power to low-income and rural communities, energy security concerns and favorable national policies.

However, the report said that while U.S. government policy has helped foster geothermal projects abroad, thanks to programs created by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Export-Import Bank of the United States, domestically the uncertainty about the ending of federal tax credits for renewable energy was stifling growth.

“It is encouraging to see such widespread geothermal growth, as this baseload energy source has the potential to replace coal and other non-renewable power sources in countries around the world,” Karl Gawell, Executive Director of GEA, said in a statement. “Worldwide, national policies are propelling growth in the strongest markets, but growth in the United States is still hindered by uncertainty about the direction of government policy.”

“Federal tax credits for geothermal in the U.S expire at the end of 2013, making it difficult for many projects with long lead times to move forward in this unpredictable economic climate,” Gawell went on. “The way to ensure constant and steady industry growth domestically is for Washington to extend renewable energy tax incentives and promote policies consistent with industry needs for sustained growth and technology advancement.”

The GEA report came out in conjunction with the recent GEA International Showcase in Washington. The conference highlighted geothermal projects, policies and development from the world’s key geothermal markets including the Caribbean, Latin America, East Africa, Europe, Asia and the Pacific.

Paul Willis, EarthTechling