Hawai´i should aim for 100% renewable using geothermal

Last week the US state of Hawai‘i Island unveiled the final report of the Geothermal Working Group showing that geothermal power could cover the island’s energy demand five times over and contribute to a move to 100% renewable energy. Elsewhere, other nations are moving forward with geothermal investments, despite the considerable costs, risks and pay-back times.
Hawai´i should aim for 100% renewable using geothermal

The Hawai‘i Geothermal Working Group was commissioned to evaluate geothermal energy as the primary source of base load power on Hawai‘I (US), and it was agreed by all the speakers at last week’s launch of the report at Mayor Billy Kenoi’s office that the island can move to 100% renewable energy through commitment and cooperation.

“Hawai‘i County should aim and commit to being 100 percent renewable,” Mayor Kenoi said. “Federal, state, county, community, we’re all in this together. We all recognise our commitment to our children and future generations and the quality of life on Hawai‘i Island.”

At the urging of the Hawai‘i State Legislature – Sen. Gil Kahele and Rep. Mark Nakashima were present and gave remarks at the unveiling – Hawai‘i County convened the Geothermal Working Group to map assets, discuss, examine, and make proposals to maximise geothermal energy toward the goal of making Hawai‘i Island and the State of Hawai‘i the leaders in renewable energy.

“On this island we spend over a billion dollars every year to import oil for our energy needs here on the island,” said Wallace Ishibashi, co-chair of the Geothermal Working Group. “That money can stay right here to build a better community.”

Though all renewable energy technologies do and will continue to play a role in Hawai‘i’s energy future, many renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind are not viable candidates to supply base load power because of the fluctuating nature of their production. Geothermal, however, has proven a very stable supply of power. Puna Geothermal Ventures’ 30 MW plant provides between 25 and 30% of the electricity on Hawai‘i Island. “When the sun doesn’t shine, when the wind doesn’t blow, geothermal is there,” Ishibashi said.

Power demand on Hawai‘i Island ranges between 90 and 185 MW. Geothermal power potential on Hawai‘i Island has been estimated at between 500 and 700 megawatts, according to the report.

The report recommends that government play a more active role in the facilitation of geothermal development with a review of the permitting process, regulatory capabilities, and possible investment incentives. The report also suggests establishing a community advisory board to guide the use of geothermal royalties paid by geothermal energy producers.

New PPA signed for geothermal power

Elsewhere in the United States, U.S. Geothermal Inc., a leading renewable energy company focused on the development, production and sale of electricity from geothermal energy, has just announced that the Nevada Public Utility Commission has approved a 19.9 MW amended and restated power purchase agreement (PPA) with its wholly owned subsidiary, USG Nevada LLC, for the San Emidio Project located in Washoe County, Nevada.

The amended PPA expands the existing 3.6 megawatt agreement to provide for the purchase of electric power by the Sierra Pacific Power Company for up to 19.9 MW from two power generation units at San Emidio.

Norway eyes geothermal

Other countries are also exploring ramping up their geothermal capacities. The Research Council of Norway, for example, has granted NOK 24 million ($4 million) to the four-year project NEXT-Drill, in which scientists and industry will develop the technology and tools needed to produce geothermal heat.

At Norway’s latitudes, the ground temperature rises by about 20 degrees centigrade per kilometre into the crust. Power from this source of energy could play a significant role in the global green energy mix, the group said. NEXT-Drill will offer a basis for close cooperation between the participating research institutes and universities. The industrial consortium includes energy companies Statoil and Statnett, Atlas Copco Scoroc, the leading Swedish manufacturer of equipment for drilling in hard rock, and a number of Norwegian entrepreneurs and technology companies such as Resonator, Norhard, Pen-Rock and Rock Energy. SINTEF is coordinating the project.

Three low-carbon energy research projects in India are also getting a total of around NOK 18 million ($3 million) from the Research Council of Norway under a research cooperation program between the two countries. "The three projects that will now receive funding are in the areas of geology and wave energy. All of them have great potential for technological breakthroughs and commercial applications in both countries," said Rune Volla, director of the council's energy department.

Japan could follow suit

While Norway shows its interest in geothermal, other nations are not so keen. Japan for instance is in dire need of new base load after the Fukushima nuclear accident has raised doubts about its plans to build 13 more nuclear power stations, but has not shown much interest in geothermal energy aside from developing hot springs.

And this despite the fact the country has an estimated 23.5 GW of geothermal potential –enough power to replace all its planned nuclear stations over the next decade. Reticence remains high to invest in geothermal in Japan though because of the high upfront costs and risks associated with establishing new geothermal operations.

It costs around $7 million to assess a new 20-MW geothermal power plant and a further $20-$40 million to drill, with the risk of losing that investment remaining high until the resource is proven.

Indeed a megawatt of geothermal energy requires an investment of about $3.5 million, some three times the cost of developing coal energy. Investors are also put off by the 5-7 years required to bring a geothermal plant into commercial operation, and the long payback times involved.

Nonetheless, as countries such as Iceland and the US have demonstrated and Norway and Hawai’I are prepared to find out, geothermal projects are worthwhile. Japan is also well placed to move forward in this field, given that its companies such as Mitsubishi Corp, Toshiba Corp and Fuji supply around 70% of all the steam turbines and power gear for geothermal plants worldwide.

Learning from the experts

Japanese geothermal developers would therefore be advised to attend the forthcoming Geothermal Energy Association Geothermal Energy Finance Forum 2012 in California – a geothermal leader in the US – on 18 January where business leaders from the geothermal industry and the financial and investment communities will convene.

“This valuable conference brings the finance and investment community together and provides a tutorial on geothermal energy investment with top experts and major players in geothermal development and finance. I know the discussions fostered by this important conference will be tremendously beneficial to the future of renewable energy,” San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee remarks.

For additional information:

Geothermal Energy Association

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