During New Zealand Geothermal Week in November 2018, we had the pleasure of hosting both Alexander Richter and Rocelle Mendoza in our Christchurch office. Rocelle is the first-ever Seequent / WING visibility scholarship winner, and Alex is the founder of ThinkGeoEnergy. He’s also the President of the International Geothermal Association.
ThinkGeoEnergy was launched by Alex in 2008, and the site has now become the leading online source for geothermal news. It provides industry news coverage, industry research, a global geothermal power plant map and weekly newsletter for subscribers.
While Alex was visiting our office, he shared with our company a presentation on the geothermal industry. Seequent staff in New Zealand gathered in our main-floor café to learn, while those in our global offices (including Canada, Russia, Australia and Latin America) tuned in remotely. Alex started off by telling us a bit of New Zealand’s history:
“New Zealand just celebrated 60 years of geothermal power generation at Wairakei - this was the second geothermal power plant in the world.
“It was a very important milestone for the global geothermal industry, because the plant was the first one utilising a wet geothermal resource. The New Zealanders developed the idea of separating water from steam and generating power from that – called ‘flash steam’. And that’s now the model for over 80% of all geothermal power plants worldwide. The impact that New Zealand has had in geothermal energy is remarkable.”
Alex also shared that as of 2018, New Zealand has officially become part of the ‘1 Gigawatt Country Club’ – meaning we now have installed geothermal power generation capacity of over 1 gigawatt. New Zealand joins the USA, the Philippines, Turkey and Indonesia.
“Today we have about 26 countries that generate electricity from geothermal resources. Even Australia is producing electricity today. And there are about 25 other countries currently developing geothermal power projects, so that list will grow to about 50 countries in the future.”
And each of these generating countries have their unique ways of harnessing geothermal resources.
“In China for example, they are investing up to $90 billion into geothermal, as they are working on geothermal district heating in Beijing. In Germany, the city of Munich is developing one of the largest geothermal district heating systems in the world. In places like Iceland, geothermal energy is key for heating water in fish farms. There are uses for greenhouses, natural spas – and initiatives to extract minerals from geothermal brine.”
But for Alex, the biggest question is what the future holds for the geothermal industry.
“Where will the geothermal industry go? We as an industry are not providing the hockey stick growth we see in spaces like solar and wind energy. And that is a bit of a challenge. But we've shown over the years consistent global growth - so there is a market. The International Energy Agency estimates 4,000 Megawatt development over the next five to 10 years. So that's quite positive. And there is expected to be about $81 billion invested in geothermal until 2050.
“Geothermal energy is likely not the biggest player in the renewable energy market, but it will play an incredibly important role in heating and cooling. This is where the growth market is for geothermal, but also where we as an industry will have the greatest impacts in regards to climate change, reduction of carbon emission and air quality. For example, over 40% of the current energy demand in the European Union is for heating and cooling.
After Alex’s presentation, he spent some time with Graham Grant, our COO. Watch the video with them both below, to learn more about Alex’s work and thoughts on the geothermal industry: