By Johnny Wood
Over the next decade, Asia’s economies are expected to continue their expansion, representing 60% of global growth, according to the Asian Development Bank. Similarly, energy demand in Asia and the Pacific is projected to increase to twice what it is today. In a region dependent on fossil fuels such as coal, the rising demand is problematic for the pursuit of net zero emissions.
In the Philippines, a recently announced moratorium on endorsements for greenfield coal power projects signals a regional shift to more sustainable energy. Some Asian nations are sitting on an endless source of secure, sustainable and affordable energy underground: geothermal energy. That is, the heat deep within the earth. The challenge is to locate and harness the emissions-free power of this rich resource.
The Philippines has long championed geothermal energy, but in recent years its standing as a global leader in the technology has taken a hit, due in part to lengthy permitting policies and the negative impact of unattractive incentive packages on foreign investment. In response, the government has issued an ambitious set of targets to boost the sector.
The wave of new activity in the Philippines is part of a broader regional expansion in geothermal power.
Tenders for five new geothermal projects have been announced, with a combined potential output of 87MW. In addition to these projects, plans are in place to expand the Bacon-Manito (BacMan) geothermal power plant in the province of Sorsogon. Turboden, a part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, will provide the power generation system, and Mitsubishi Power will dispatch personnel to the site to offer installation guidance and handle domestic transport, among other responsibilities.
This wave of new activity in the Philippines is part of a broader regional expansion in geothermal power, with geologically active nations well placed to harness thermal energy’s potential.
Market for geothermal is heating up
A quarter of the world’s geothermal generation capacity is located in Southeast Asia, mostly deployed in just two countries − Indonesia and the Philippines. Rich with volcanic geology, the Philippines was the region’s leading geothermal exponent until it was eclipsed by Indonesia in 2018.
Composed of an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines is scattered along the Ring of Fire, a zone of Pacific volcanoes with high geothermal potential. Currently, seven geothermal fields supply around 12% of national energy demand, with the potential for much more.
Located astride the Pacific Typhoon Belt, the country is no stranger to the impact of climate change; regular and increasingly violent typhoons, storms and flooding are constant threats.
The Department of Energy is targeting an additional 900MW of geothermal capacity by 2025, and a further 288MW in the five years to 2030. If fully realized, new capacity, combined with existing installed capacity in the Philippines, would challenge the U.S., the current global leader in geothermal deployment.
Although the upfront costs of exploring, drilling and creating new projects is high, particularly when little geothermal activity is found, the long-term benefits of an abundant, inexpensive and renewable energy supply are huge.
A readily available and boundless resource
Geothermal energy can provide a plentiful supply of baseload power around the clock year-round. With Turboden’s Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) turbine technology, power can be generated from lower temperature geothermal sources often found closer to the surface, giving more countries access to this clean energy source.
It is this technology that will enhance the BacMan geothermal power plant, using power derived from hot water instead of fossil fuels to drive the ORC turbine. Scheduled to come online in 2022, the site’s 29MW power generation cycle is expected to cut CO2 emissions by around 72,000 tons annually, the equivalent of 20,000 hectares of forest.
Turboden’s ORC technology has been successfully demonstrated at projects like the 14MW Lightning Dock project in New Mexico, which generates emissions-free electricity from a lower-heat geothermal source.
Like traditional geothermal turbines, Turboden’s ORC turbines utilize heat from hot water pumped to the surface through a well. But unlike traditional turbines that are driven by steam, the water passes through a heat exchanger which contains a separate fluid with a lower boiling point than water. The fluid operates in a closed loop, vaporizing to drive a turbine and generate electricity before being cooled and turning back into a liquid ready for the cycle to begin again. Having transferred its thermal energy, the water is pumped back below ground to heat up once more.
“Turboden has pioneered many aspects of ORC technology and has developed a portfolio of around 10 different working fluids, so we can select the best fluid to operate the ORC turbines on each project,” explains Altieri.
The flexibility allows wider implementation of geothermal energy, which could help open up new markets. In the global quest for cleaner energy, geothermal could play a larger role in the energy mix that countries tap.
Growth across Southeast Asia and East Asia will be centered in a few key markets. In addition to the Philippines, established geothermally active nations such as Indonesia and Japan have their sights set on expanding this energy source. In fact, Indonesia looks set to become the global leader in geothermal capacity by 2022, adding new projects and easing policy challenges that restrict new exploration and development.
Like these countries, current fledgling China has huge potential for a geothermal capacity boom, because of its proximity to the Circum Pacific geothermal belt, which has low- and medium‐temperature geothermal potential in its numerous large‐scale basins and mountainous fault belts.
Across the globe, the use of geothermal energy − a readily available, boundless resource − is growing at an annual rate of 2.5%. Continued expansion of geothermal power will not only help the Philippines meet its burgeoning energy needs more sustainably, but also position Asia as a whole as a renewable energy hot spot.
About the author
Johnny Wood has been a journalist for over 15 years working in different parts of the world – Asia, Europe and the Middle East. In addition to being an accomplished features writer, he has edited several prestigious lifestyle magazines and corporate publications.