Lack of policy framework delaying geothermal energy development in Papua New Guinea

Rabaul Caldera, Papua New Guinea (source: Reykjavik Geothermal)
Alexander Richter 14 Sep 2016

Geothermal energy is seen as a very favourable source of energy for the future of power supply in Papua New Guinea, but without a supporting legislative and policy framework there won´t be any development soon.

The Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the junction of several tectonic plates with many active volcanoes. They can be found in two principal volcanic arcs.

The Geothermal Energy Association estimates that the country could essentially meet all its electricity needs from geothermal energy (GEA, 2010). To this day, only one geothermal plant is operating on Lihir Island, the location of large-scale gold mine operations. There has been over the years a large interest in developing geothermal energy projects in Papua New Guinea, but with no real supporting policy framework exploration and utilisation has delayed any potential progress.

Reconnaissance geological, geophysical and geothermal surveys have been undertaken in the past but could not progress due to this lack. Several private groups, including Geothermal Development Associates, KuTh Energy (now part of Geodynamics, that has announced its exit from any geothermal activities in the Pacific), and Reykjavik Geothermal have performed reconnaissance work and/or submitted license applications under the Mining Act of 2002, but work is on hold pending a more appropriate legal framework.

Today, hydropower represents a share of around 40% of all installed power generation capacity in the country.  With the volcanic nature of the island and active volcanoes, the country has a known 55 geothermal sites.

Michael Petterson, Director for the Geoscience division at the Pacific Community, states that this figure may be in theory only as developing this energy source takes a lot of effort, however just half or a portion of this is still a significant amount and if harnessed correctly, can power the country for millions of years to come.

In a paper for the World Geothermal Congress 2015, the authors argue that “reconnaissance exploration surveys would be a necessary step to provide a preliminary assessment of PNG’s geothermal resource potential. However, delays by the government to provide a sufficient policy and regulatory framework are hampering geothermal development. The delay by the government in making a determination to appoint the appropriate State Agency delegating policy and regulatory functions appears to be the primary obstacle in geothermal resource development.”

Source: EM TV,  Kuna, I., Zehner, R. “Papua New Guinea Country Update” (WGC2015)