The global geothermal energy market continues to grow significantly in 2012. However, in the US, the world’s largest producer of geothermal power, growth has...

The global geothermal energy market continues to grow significantly in 2012. However, in the US, the world’s largest producer of geothermal power, growth has slowed. So which countries are fueling the surge in geothermal development? Let’s take a look:

Much of the progress is occurring in East Africa, Central America and Asia, driven by economic growth in developing markets and rising energy demands as those populations increase.

According to the Geothermal Energy Association’s “2012 International Market Overview Report,” Kenya now generates over eight times more geothermal electric power (202 megawatts, or MW) than does the world’s leading energy consumer, China (24 MW of geothermal electricity). With its location in the East African Rift System, Kenya is rich in potential geothermal energy. And the rising population in East Africa has increased the demand for renewable energy solutions such as geothermal, to help guarantee future energy security.

The Philippines, the second-largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, now has 1,972 MW of installed geothermal energy. Growth there has been fueled by strong government support to meet the power needs of a growing population. According to the Philippine Department of Energy, electricity demands are expected to double by 2020.

In Central America, several countries are developing large and previously untapped high-temperature sources of geothermal energy to reduce their exposure to the price volatility of fossil fuels. One country in the region, El Salvador, already generates a full 24 percent of its electricity from geothermal sources, with a potential capacity to generate between 362 and 2,210 MW of geothermal power.

Meanwhile, China, which has huge geothermal resources, lags behind in geothermal electricity development. China actually ranks number one in terms of geothermal resources used for all applications (mostly for direct heating), but has seen its progress in geothermal electricity hindered by a lack of experts. According to the Geothermal Energy Association, it needs many more specialists to support the technology required to develop geothermal electric power.

While China and others have plenty of geothermal potential, the United States remains the world leader in geothermal electricity. It has a larger installed capacity than any other country: 3,187 MW (as of 2012), which equates to 28.4 percent of geothermal production worldwide. However, uncertainty has grown around significant expansion of production, with the continued weak economy dampening efforts to develop renewables.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Italy and Iceland dominate the European geothermal market, accounting for more than 90 percent of the region’s developed geothermal energy. Turkey, however, looks to become a fast-rising star. As of 2012, it has approximately 100 MW of installed geothermal capacity, the third largest in Europe. By 2015, that figure is expected to increase sharply, hitting 550 MW (at a cost of $1.6 billion), according to the Turkey Geothermal Association.

So which countries are generating the most electricity from geothermal sources today? Following are the top 10, based on the most recently available data (2010) from the International Geothermal Association (the Geothermal Energy Association report does not include updated figures for all countries):

  1. US – 3,093 MW as of 2010
  2. Philippines – 1,904 MW
  3. Indonesia – 1,197 MW
  4. Mexico – 958 MW
  5. Italy – 843 MW
  6. New Zealand – 628 MW
  7. Iceland – 575 MW
  8. Japan – 536 MW
  9. El Salvador – 204 MW
  10. Kenya – 167 MW

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  • Annette A. Barry

    July 9, 2012 #1 Author

    Since China is already in Africa advancing hydroelectric projects, why not work together again, but this time China will gain expertise from geothermal experts in Kenya and develop a partnership that shares the output generated?

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