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Interview series: Mark Miller, MD of Greenearth Energy

Geelong Geothermal Power Project Conceptual Model (including 12MWe geothermal energy plant - not to scale) (source: Greenearth Energy)
Alexander Richter 27 Sep 2010

In an interview with Mark Miller the Managing Director of Australian developer Greenearth Energy, he provides an overview on his company's strategy in Australia, but also the work in Indonesia. He will represent the company with Team Australia at the GRC/ GEA event in Sacramento in October.

In another interview leading up to the GRC/ GEA event in Sacramento in October, I had the chance to get Mark Miller the Managing Director of Australian Greenearth Energy to do an interview with ThinkGeoEnergy.

Mark Miller (Managing Director) oversees the strategic and day to day running of Greenearth Energy in its endeavour to become Australia’s foremost conventional geothermal exploration and development company. He will be present in Sacramento as part of Team Australia, which again has its own booth at the GEA Trade Show.

Mark’s responsibilities include project capital raising and all government, industry, investment and community engagement activities domestically and internationally. Mark’s other responsibilities include: Vice President & Director – PT Geo Power Indonesia and Director – Pacific Heat and Power.

Mark has extensive senior management experience across a wide range of industries both domestically and internationally including downstream oil marketing, consumer products manufacturing and distribution, banking and finance as well as environmental technology. Mark also holds a Bachelor of Science Degree (Maj Geology) form La Trobe University, Melbourne.

How would you describe your company and your key activities?

Greenearth Energy Limited is an ASX Listed (ASX:GER) Australian Geothermal energy company that aims to explore for and develop conventional geothermal resources in Australia, Indonesia, and the wider Pacific Rim.

The Company has a simple strategy of focussing on lower cost exploration and appraisal of prospective conventional geothermal targets close to major markets and near existing electricity generation and transmission infrastructure.

What are your company’s key projects and what is their development status and outlook?

The company follows some key strategic directions.

Domestic geothermal exploration and development strategy:

Greenearth Energy’s domestic geothermal focus is on developing conventional (proven) geothermal systems. In Australia these systems are called Hot Sedimentary Aquifer (HSA) geothermal systems. HSA geothermal systems have been successfully developed and operating elsewhere in the world for the past 25 years.

Greenearth Energy is focussed on identifying and developing HSA geothermal systems utilising established geothermal drilling techniques and equipment, and deploying proven Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) plant technology.

Greenearth Energy’s domestic geothermal exploration permits (GEP’s) are among the most prospective and commercially developable in Australia being close to existing grid infrastructure (lower grid connection costs) and major emitting industries (potential off take partners).

Our flagship domestic geothermal project, the Geelong Geothermal Power Project (GGPP) is ideally located in one of Australia’s most carbon challenged regions (the greater Geelong region) while our GEP’s to the east of Melbourne (Victoria’s Capital – Population circa 4Million) in the Onshore Gippsland area and the Latrobe Valley (GEP 12 & 13) are home to more than 6,000MW of brown coal fired power generation and responsible for more than 22% of our entire nations greenhouse gas emissions.

Geelong Geothermal Power Project:

Greenearth Energy’s flagship domestic geothermal project is the Geelong Geothermal Power Project (GGPP). The GGPP has been assessed as capable of delivering a potential 140MWe of base load (continuous) zero emissions electricity. This tri-staged project development lends itself to a multiple modular installation approach over time.

Assisting Greenearth Energy in the developing the GGPP is Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM) the world’s leading geothermal technical consultants. SKM have been involved in the development of over 50% of the world’s current installed geothermal capacity (+11,000MW).

The Victorian State Government, under the Energy Technology Innovation Strategy (ETIS) program, awarded Greenearth Energy AU$25M in early December 2009. This money was awarded to assist the first two stages of the GGPP. The Stage 1, Proof-of-Resource stage was awarded AU$5M to assist to drill a deep geothermal production well and confirm the presence of the target HSA geothermal resource. Upon successful completion of Stage 1, an additional AU$20M was awarded towards the development of the Stage 2, a grid connected 12MWe geothermal energy demonstration plant.

A second announcement on December 14 2009 advised Greenearth Energy’s GGPP had been awarded $7M in Australian Government funding from round two of the Geothermal Drilling Program (GDP) for the project’s Stage 1 Proof-of-Concept, further enhancing the project’s ability to commence.

Greenearth Energy is in a unique position of being a recipient of both Australian and Victorian Government funding for the company’s GGPP Stage 1 Proof-of-Concept, totalling AU$12M.

Greenearth Energy has commenced the process to raise the remainder of the necessary project capital, while also undertaking the preliminary planning for Stage 1, and concerted stakeholder and community engagement programs.

Latrobe Valley Investigation:

The company has been planning a forward program to better understand the geology beneath the Latrobe Valley. The very thick brown coals in the area tend to obscure geophysical signals and makes mapping detail beneath the coals challenging.

Greenearth Energy has, to date, focused on understanding heat flow and temperature at depth. The next phase is to commence mapping of the subsurface and identify potential hot sedimentary aquifer (HSA) drilling targets.

International Geothermal Exploration and Development Strategy: In 2009 Greenearth Energy, in partnership with Melbourne based Geo Energy Pty Ltd, North American based International Investment Resources LLC and Indonesia’s Santini Group established Jakarta based, Indonesian Geothermal Exploration and Development entity, PT Geo Power Indonesia.

PT Geo Power’s aim is to develop a suite of geothermal exploration and development opportunities across the Indonesian archipelago. In addition Greenearth Energy is also focussing on a number of other geothermal project opportunities within the wider Pacific Rim that if successful will be the subject of future announcements.

What incentives or support do you think would be crucial to speed up development in Australia?

Individuals, communities, investors, developers and government all play a part in securing our future energy needs in a carbon constrained world. The Australian geothermal industry is a nascent industry and as such a great many things are required to develop individual projects and the industry collectively Three key areas include:

  1. Ongoing education of the public, investor market and government of the types of geothermal systems being developed in Australia their risks and rewards,
  2. Appropriate policy settings to provide potential investors with greater clarity and certainty going forward
  3. Strategically targeted Government (Commonwealth and State) support to assist in the development of a number of geothermal system type projects (HSA, EGS and Direct Use) across the country at varying stages (Exploration, Demonstration Plant and Commercialisation) that effectively deliver a pipeline of projects with key learning’s resulting in more rapid development of Commercialisation stage project outcomes in turn creating greater investment appetite for the highest risk exploration stage.

The Australian Government and Victorian State Government have been supportive of the geothermal energy sector in Australia. Unfortunately at this point in time we do not have an Emissions Trading Scheme (carbon price) and that fact along with several domestic challenges and tight equity markets are driving renewable energy investors in Australia to established intermittent technologies.

What do you think holds back speedier development of geothermal energy projects globally?

Many of the same reasons we are not seeing as rapid development in Australia as we would like. A mixture of education and understanding as to the benefits of geothermal development, exploration risk, challenges in raising project capital, sovereign risk in certain jurisdictions, all the usual suspects!

What are your expectations for the event in Sacramento?

Another great conference, we are all a year older and hopefully wiser for the experience and challenges of the last 12 months.

Who do you look forward meeting at the trade show?

Anybody and everybody who would like to learn more about Greenearth Energy, our flagship domestic project, the Geelong Geothermal Power Project (the only Hot Sedimentary Aquifer (HSA) geothermal project in Australia that has been supported with Government funding for Stage 1 Proof of Concept and Stage 2 Demonstration) and our Indonesian JV, PT Geo Power Indonesia. Come and say hi at the Team Australia booth.

Company Website: www.greenearthenergy.com.au