Photo credit: Paul VanDerWerf

What is The Worldwide Geothermal Energy Potential?

Geothermal energy is heat generated and stored in the Earth. It is a fossil-free, environmentally friendly, renewable energy source that is as of today yet a rather untapped potential. The U.S. Department of Energy and the United States Geological Survey USGS estimate that if developed and utilized to its full potential, geothermal energy in the United States alone could provide the whole country with 10% of its required power. According to IRENA, some of the many benefits of geothermal energy also include the facts that geothermal energy can be found all around the world, and that it is available around the year, with less variations than for instance the generation of solar and wind energy. 

Not only is geothermal energy very low in greenhouse gas emissions, making it a valuable source of renewable energy, but with advanced technologies this yet rather untapped source of energy can also contribute to efficient wastewater treatment and management. According to IHA (2018), geothermal energy production has the third lowest lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions after wind onshore and hydropower, with only 38 gCO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour. As a comparison, coal has 820 gCO2 equivalent/kWh. Thus, the development of geothermal energy sector can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

BP Global states that as a mature and well-established source of renewable energy, the overall potential of geothermal power in terms of electricity generation is higher than that of wind and solar energy. Despite its currently tiny share (one percent) of the total global energy mix, the role of geothermal energy is significant in a number of countries. Its power generation grew by 3.6% in 2016, and according to Renewable Energy World, geothermal energy is trending upwards. Orkustofnun, the National Energy Authority of Iceland, states that Iceland is a pioneer when it comes to the use of geothermal energy. Geothermal sources provide Iceland with 66% of the country’s primary energy usage. 

Moreover, for instance in Chile, financial institutions are investing in geothermal energy in order to support the country in reducing its emissions with a target to meet the demands of the Paris Agreement, but also to expand the country ́s energy portfolio. Between 2005 and 2015, the annual growth of geothermal power capacity worldwide averaged at 3.3%. Leading countries in terms of geothermal power capacity in 2016 were the United States, followed by the Philippines, Indonesia, New Zealand, Italy, Mexico, Turkey, Kenya, Iceland, and Japan. (BP 2017; Renewable Energy World 2017).

In its publication “World Energy Resources – Geothermal 2016”, the World Energy Council reveals that El Salvador plans for four tenths of the country’s energy coming from geothermal by 2020. India, on the other hand, has an ambitious goal for geothermal development by 2030. Outright, the total worldwide capacity of geothermal power is forecast to double. The World Energy Council sees that geothermal power development has been slowed down by conservative legislation and a lack of government incentives which, however, could see changes now that countries work towards decarbonizing the energy sector in order to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, but also as an effort to diversify energy production and move towards clean(er) sources of power generation. Worthwhile to note, geothermal energy production releases very small amounts of greenhouse gases, and has few impacts upon the environment, allowing for renewable energy agencies to classify it as a renewable energy source. 

Furthermore, the World Energy Council estimates that in order to survive in the 21st century, the geothermal energy sector is obliged to innovate. Despite its many advantages and many countries worldwide having access to geothermal power production, geothermal power production has historically primarily been used by countries that have lacked fossil fuel resources but have a high amount of geothermal energy resources, but also as a means to secure national energy resources as a part of a country’s energy infrastructure, and/or to diversify a country’s energy portfolio. While forecast that developing countries such as Kenya and Indonesia will tap into their abundant geothermal heat resources, advanced clean technologies and growing electrification of markets for instance in Europe will allow the geothermal energy sector to grow its capacity on developed markets as well. 

Geothermal power resources worldwide are estimated to contain 50.000 times more energy than all available oil and gas resources combined, speaking for the immense potential within the geothermal energy sector. The geothermal energy sector could theoretically provide all the energy needed worldwide. In addition to being an environmentally friendly, renewable source of energy worldwide, unlike fossil-fuels such as coal, gas, and oil, advanced geothermal technologies are becoming cost-efficient. Geothermal energy is nor dependent on weather conditions or low in capacity – on the contrary. As of today, depending upon country and region, both access to funding and legislation are potential obstacles in terms of the geothermal energy sector to reach its full potential. (IRENA 2017).

Learn more about the commercial production of geothermal energy by watching U.S. Department of Energy ́s video “Energy 101: Geothermal Energy”:

You may also want to read one of my previous articles: Why Is The Worldwide Marine Energy Market In Its Infancy?  

Connect with me on Twitter @annemariayritys. For climate/environment-related posts only @GCCThinkActTank. Subscribe toYritys Executive Services to receive my latest articles delivered personally to you.

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