The global geothermal energy market is expected to reach 12,000 MW of capacity by the end of 2013, showing signs of steady expansion. Growth is led by progress in developing areas such as Africa and Latin America and is highlighted in the recently released report titled: 2013 Geothermal Power: International Market Overview by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA).
For comparison, 415 MW went online in 2012, while more than 700 MW have been commissioned so far in 2013. These numbers have equated to a steady 4 percent growth rate each year, but year-over-year numbers aren’t always the best way to analyze geothermal industry progress, said Ben Matek, GEA analyst and author of the report. Projects tend to come online in gradual, predictable waves, Matek said.
“Unlike other renewables, [geothermal] projects tend to be larger endeavors and can take up to a year to construct…depending on how you define construction,” he said. “So you can see their completion in the pipeline, and it’s more of a waiting game for the projects to become operational.”
What is most notable, Matek said, is where companies are looking for new projects. For example, in 2011 and 2012, most U.S.-based companies were focused on the domestic market. But now, many have shifted their sights on global markets. Said Matek, “It seems the geothermal market is becoming much more competitive, with companies competing (some for the first time) in the global market for projects.”
The number of global projects moving forward echoes this trend, explained Karl Gawell, executive director of the GEA.
“What the report is actually showing is that if you look back three years ago when we did our very first international report, we were able to identify about 70 countries interested in geothermal, but it was difficult to see more than about a dozen of them moving forward with project,” said Gawell. “Today we are seeing many more of those countries move forward with multiple projects.”
Many of these countries are realizing the potential of geothermal and taking advantage of it for two major reasons, said Gawell: First, it’s about economics – developing countries especially need power for continued economic and industrial growth. Second, it’s climate initiatives – many of these countries are introducing policies to reduce climate emissions, and geothermal fits perfectly. “Someday we might have a climate initiative in the U.S., but not yet,” he added.
Meanwhile, initiatives like the Obama Administration’s Power Africa program and GEA’s own East African Geothermal Partnership (EAGP) in collaboraion with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) aim to foster the exchange of business (such as technology, equipment and consulting) from U.S. companies to Africa. “[EAGP has] been holding training seminars to bring U.S. experts over to work with these countries – it’s another program where we’ll learn what works and how to move forward,” said Gawell. “We’ve had a strong showing of companies interested in those markets and people are doing business there.” And there is plenty of business to be done — just last month, 100 different companies arrived in Kenya to bid on three geothermal power units, according to Gawell.
“Now we see many countries whose projects were just ideas on paper actually tendering property for development and initial stages of exploration underway,” said Matek. “Tangible research, events, and publications are coming out of these countries that 3-5 years ago were just ideas. It’s exciting to look back and see the forward progress.”