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Geothermal Power May Surge 10-Fold With Incentives, IEA Says

Geothermal energy’s share of global capacity may increase more than 10-fold by 2050 if governments implement incentives, according to the International Energy Agency.

Power generated from underground heat sources may account for as much as 3.5 percent of worldwide electricity within four decades, up from 0.3 percent now, the Paris-based agency said today in a report on its website.

Streamlined permitting procedures and pricing incentives may result in more than 200 gigawatts of installed geothermal capacity by then, according to the IEA’s technology road map.

Taking advantage of underground heat resources that are widely available will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. High costs have hampered development of power geothermal power plants.

Geothermal development “can be an arduous process,” Mark Taylor, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Washington office, said in a telephone interview. “You have to secure the land, drill, risk not finding resources, drill some more and then build a power plant,” and all that work drives up project costs.

The IEA suggested that governments provide funding for at least 50 pilot projects that generate electricity from dry rock, which comprise most of the world’s usable subterranean heat. Most existing geothermal projects are in areas with naturally occurring hot water or steam, the IEA said.

Capital costs for geothermal projects varied from $2,000 a kilowatt to $5,900 in 2008, depending on the technology, according to the report.

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