RE developers lose interest in geothermal

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    By JED MACAPAGAL

    After being dislodged by Indonesia as the second biggest producer of geothermal energy in the world, the Philippines needs to harness untapped geothermal power sources to catch up.

    But Joeffrey Caranto, president of the National Geothermal Association of the Philippines (NGAP) said developers have shifted interest to other forms of renewable energy because geothermal was not included in the technologies that were provided with incentives via feed-in-tariff.

    Caranto said apart from the additional wells from existing projects of Energy Development Corp., new geothermal projects that materialized in utilizing the said resource were only from the 32 MW Maibarara geothermal project in Batangas

    “We’ve enjoyed that for 25 years since 1993 but at the second half of 2018, we moved to third and was surpassed by Indonesia because there are lots of developments there in the last five years. They continue to grow and as we speak, they will be commissioning at least 200 megawatts (MW) for the second half of this year until next year,” Caranto said at the PowerTrends 2019 forum last week

    The NGAP chief said a lot of RE companies were created after the enactment of the RE Law and tried their luck in finding areas with enough geothermal resources in order to answer the Department of Energy’s (DOE) call to develop at least 1,500 MW worth of geothermal power by 2030.

    But these projects encountered several issues involving indigenous people, insurgencies, high cost of infrastructure and transmission line problems.

    “There’s been a lot of surface explorations being done all over the country. Unfortunately, it’s not as a walk in the park as we all thought it was,” Caranto said.

    NGAP and the DOE had long been advocating for the development of low-enthalpy geothermal resources as an alternative.

    Low enthalpy areas are geothermal prospects that are capable of steam temperature of only 60 to 180 degrees centigrade which is lower than the conventional 220 degrees centigrade.

    “(These) are usually located near springs where infrastructure is available, transmission line is probably close and we will not be needing to invest heavily on roads and paths.

    Although the size and the level of development will be lower compared to high temperature systems, the economics will probably pave the way for it primarily because of lower cost of development,” Caranto added.

    Geotecnica Corp. president and chief executive officer, Arthur Saldivar-Sali, said companies should also try to look back at the proven geothermal resources found at the Cordillera Region.

    Sali, who served as deputy director of the Bureau of Energy Development at the Ministry of Energy in the 80s, noted that the total potential of geothermal power in the region is at a high of 600 MW and a low of 400 MW.

    “We have to consider a different approach since we need to deal with a part of a country that has a different cultural outlook from the rest of the country but it can be overcome,” he said.

    He said the fact that the Cordilleras having among the highest rainfall level in the country makes it very conducive to house a geothermal power plant as the steam in the area will be recyclable and renewable as long as it continues to rain.

    Data from the DOE showed that as of end-2018, the total installed on-grid capacity of geothermal power plants experienced a minimal growth at 1,944 MW compared from 2017’s 1,916 MW with an overall share of 8.2 percent from the previous 8.4 percent of the power mix.