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INTERVIEW TO THE EXPERT


 

EXERGY: In one of your blog post commenting the election as future president of the IGA you wrote: “Compared to other renewable energy technologies, we are though not as visible and are often not taken that seriously. We need to strengthen efforts in the promotion and representation of geothermal energy….” At one year from your nomination as IGA President has something changed in this scenario? 

ALEX: From the beginning when I started working on marketing and branding related issues for the geothermal sector, I knew that this would be a challenging approach. In a process, we started prior to my Presidency of the IGA, we have been working on a complete rebranding of IGA. Given that IGA is representing the geothermal sector internationally, we think our branding needs to more professional represent the future of geothermal and this also beyond electricity generation. Having started with a new logo we launched this year, we have also increased our social media presence and are working on a large number of initiatives related to content and visibility. As part of that we are also working on a new website. Visibility and visual elements such as logos are though only one element. The other thing we have been focusing on is strengthening our relationship with international organisations, such as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the World Bank, the UN and others. The thought is that we can reach decision makers, in the political and business sphere, more strongly in collaboration with these organisations. This strategy is working and there are things happening, but this is all that I can say on this at the moment

EXERGY: What role can developers, technology suppliers, international research institutions and organisations like IGA play to foster a stronger and lasting development of the geothermal sector?

Alex: Essentially, a stronger collaboration and cooperation on highlighting the great role geothermal energy can play in the future energy market is essential. Having a collective voice to ask for policies that support the sector and development of geothermal resources, to ask for support or help demolish roadblocks, such as unfavourable policies is important. Efforts by national geothermal associations, that IGA represents, are therefore crucial. Companies and organisations need to support these national efforts, but also international efforts. We are stronger bundling our forces … and yes this includes financially support the promotional and policy efforts by the national associations and groups, and that of IGA on behalf of the sector.

EXERGY: The recent Global Geothermal Investment Forum discussed the economics of the geothermal sector. What factors did come to light to increase and facilitate investment especially in those developing countries as the African continent which are rich in resources but where the energy system still relies too much on fossil fuel?

Geothermal energy development sees good support and initiatives by international donors and development banks, e.g. in Africa and Latin America. This often makes it easier to develop projects in these regions than it is e.g. in Europe. At the same time bundling efforts and provide more complete financing packages from the very early stages of development all the way to the operating power plant seems to be needed. Often, early stage financing options and support like the East Africa Geothermal Risk Mitigation Facility (GRMF) are helpful, but not necessarily helping projects secure funding for drilling of production wells. Another issue are lacking policies that would secure guaranteed electricity prices as part of Power Purchase Agreements or feed-in-tariffs. In other regions, the focus on price rather than energy security and baseload power supply, as well as subsidies and other incentives for fossil fuels sees geothermal face unfair competition. Putting a price on carbon is often seen as one of the key elements to create a level playing field, but is likely not enough.

EXERGY: Investments, policy, funds, awareness ….  and technology? How has technological innovation made geothermal exploitation simpler? What do you see as the next technological advances in geothermal and in which way can they drive the future development of this sector?

ALEX: We have seen an incredible change in the market for power plant technology. While in the past, lower temperature resources were often prohibitively expensive to be developed, increased competition in the market for binary cycle power plant technology has driven prices down and actually has helped the geothermal power generation capacity grow faster than it would have with conventional, flash-based technology. This is particularly manifested with the incredible speed of development and growth of Turkey’s geothermal sector, mostly built on ORC-technology. We also see advances in the development of stimulation technology from the research on EGS development, which could push development of previously abandoned geothermal projects. Drilling cost continues to be one of the key obstacles for geothermal development, given it being one of the largest cost items of projects. So while we see some progress on that matter, drilling cost has not come down as much globally as one could hope. So there is definitely a continued need for technological innovation here. Another issue is exploration, understanding resources and the management thereof. New 3D modelling software provides a great tool and should help in development and management and is a good example on innovation.

EXERGY: According to the most recent market overlook, the distributed energy generation market should see big growth in the next decades due to strong expansion of research and product development among high-performing technologies. What role will the geothermal industry be playing among the evolving renewables?

ALEX: The renewable energy market has seen an incredible growth and technologies such as wind and solar have seen a dramatic drop in costs. Geothermal has not been able to follow. On a price level we are competing head on with these other renewables, but will be playing an important role providing baseload power in the energy mix, while smaller than we hope for. We will likely see a strong growth in specific regions and countries, but limited growth in regions that don’t have favourable resources or energy policies. For us as a sector, it is therefore important to stretch the other attributes offered by geothermal energy. Combining power generation with direct use, e.g. district heating and other heat applications, provides great opportunities and local economic incentives. The heating element in the overall energy market is large and given that today’s heating market is still predominantly fuelled by fossil fuels, that is where geothermal will and can have the largest impact. No other renewable energy technology can play this combined role, so the opportunities here are endless.