Australia: expectations for geothermal giant to emerge

Alexander Richter 19 Oct 2009

The Australian geothermal energy industry is frustrated with regards to renewed talks of nuclear being the only emissions-free baseload option for Australia, while the opportunity to prove its own credentials has been stalled by a lack of funding.

In a recent article in Australia, the current frustrations of the Australian geothermal energy industry are looked at with regards to renewed talks of “nuclear being the only emissions-free baseload option for Australia, the opportunity to prove its own credentials has been stalled by a lack of funding.

Australia is estimated to have a geothermal resource that could provide 20,000 times its annual energy needs, at relatively low cost, but the country now accounts for less than 1 megawatt of the world’s current capacity of 10,000MW, which comes mostly from volcanic sources.

Australia’s resources lie in more challenging deep aquifers, and the even deeper and more experimental hot rocks. Despite this, the industry believes up to 2000MW of capacity could be installed by 2020, but progress has been slowed by the impact of the global financial crisis, drip-feed funding from governments, and, more importantly, the lack of drilling rigs. A well blow-out that has caused lengthy delays at the most-advanced project owned by Geodynamics has also clouded the future of the hot-rock technology.

However, the hydrothermal developers say hot aquifers are not nearly as complicated as hot rocks. Birdsville has been partly powered by one such aquifer since 1992, and Greenearth Energy last week released a report highlighting the fact that hydrothermal plants of 70MW to 120MW had been operating in the US for the past 20 years and in Europe for the past decade.

Greenearth believes it could deliver energy from the first stage of its planned 140MW project near Geelong within three years of starting to drill. Panax sees an even shorter time frame for its project on the Limestone Coast in South Australia.

However, neither company can move forward because they are in a queue to use the one suitable and available drilling rig in Australia, currently being used at Petratherm’s Parlana hot-rock project, which is several months behind schedule.

The investment community has largely snubbed geothermal in the past 18 months, but activity in some stocks in recent weeks suggests a return of interest. That will be tested before Christmas when New World Energy seeks to raise $10million in the first geothermal IPO for nearly two years.

New World has geothermal licences around the Perth Basin and hopes to finalise similar licences in the Pilbara, where it sees opportunities for large-scale geothermal developments to support, at a competitive price, the massive iron ore and LNG developments.

“(Once) you drill a successful proof of concept, that will cascade the market,” says Greenearth chief executive Mark Miller.

Morgan Stanley analysts issued a report this month noting that there were already 10 listed entities pursuing geothermal energy opportunities in Australia. All are relative minnows, but could be sharing up to $4billion in annual revenue by 2020. “From somewhere on the list of tiny companies in this space, we expect a giant to emerge,” Morgan Stanley said.”

Source: The Australian Business