Geothermal power rising worldwide

Worldwide geothermal power generating capacity will hit 12 gigawatts by the end of the year, nearly doubling its global footprint since 1996, according to a report published this week.

The Geothermal Energy Association’s report said construction on geothermal plants in Indonesia, Kenya and the United States will be among those adding substantial supplies of the renewable resource to the grid in the coming years.

Plants under construction and scheduled to be completed by 2017 will boost worldwide geothermal energy production capacity 14 percent, to close to 14 gigawatts, the report said.

The United States is currently the largest producer of geothermal power, with 3.3 gigawatts in operation, according to the report. Still, that total accounted for just 0.3 percent of all energy produced in the United States during the first five months of 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Planned projects in Indonesia may push that country’s total of geothermal energy capacity ahead of the United States.

“Many U.S. projects have progressed rather slowly due to an uncertain policy environment and problems attaining (power purchase agreements) or financing,” the report said. “There could be a time in the foreseeable future when Indonesia leads in global installed geothermal capacity.”

Geothermal leaders: Don’t overlook us as a renewable energy source

While geothermal advocates say the energy resource is a cheap and reliable option for renewable power, the projects can take a long time to complete.

Geothermal energy systems use hot water from deep underground to create steam that can spin turbines and generate electricity. Because they rely on a consistent underground resource, the systems can provide reliable baseload power.

Solar and wind resources fluctuate because they are dependent on sunlight and weather conditions.

Geothermal power is also relatively inexpensive when compared with the per-megawatt costs of installing coal, nuclear and some natural gas power plants, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The total cost per megawatt-hour of geothermal energy, which does not rely on obtaining fuels with uncertain pricing, is about $89.60, according to an estimate of levelized costs by the agency. That is far lower than some other sources of energy, which are about $100.10 per megawatt-hour for an average coal plant, $108.40 for an advanced nuclear plant, or $130.30 for a conventional natural gas-fired turbine, according to the agency.

But geothermal resources can take up to 10 years to bring to fruition.

Countries with the most planned geothermal generating capacity include the United States, Indonesia, Philippines, Kenya, Turkey and Iceland.