June 2, 2015
The World Geothermal Congress, the largest event for geothermal professionals, organised in every 5 years had been hosted this year in Melbourne, Australia. The 5 days conference revealed the latest tendencies, achievements and future trends of all aspects of geothermal energy, including power generation, geology, resource assessment, direct use, environmental and societal aspects, reservoir engineering and enhanced geothermal systems among many others. This very recent line-up of the results in the various fields of geothermal energy brought forward not only the success stories of the past years but also exposed those aspects that have been struggling either due to financial, technological or scientific/conceptual shortcomings.
There is a general consensus about the economics of deep geothermal drilling. Until the very same and very expensive drilling technology is used to create multi-km wells but at the end it is not oil or gas that is pumped but hot water it cannot be hoped that deep geothermal projects will take the share from the energy mix in the near future that would represent its global potential.
During the networking events I had the chance to discuss with a number of internationally acknowledged experts of geothermal energy and what I have learned from them did not really paint a bright picture about the future prospects of this field. There are a number of factors that jointly contribute to the rather grim situation deep geothermal energy is at right now. One of the most prominent of them was/is the global financial crisis which has caused a massive reduction in availability of capital, especially for high risk ventures such as deep geothermal exploration and development.
It tells a lot that the hosting country, Australia when earned the right to host this event in 2010 and up until the very recent few years used to be one of the best places to be if you wanted to invest your money in significant deep geothermal projects and 10+ private companies were dealing with such ventures, today there isn’t a single company that has solely geothermal in its portfolio and new geothermal ventures are at an all-time low. There was another interesting comparison drawn between this year’s WGC event and the latest one which took place in Bali, Indonesia.
Since I did not have the privilege to participate that conference I can rely only on a number of accounts from the members of my newly acquired professional network who did participate. They said that the decline of geothermal on a global scale reflects very well in the interest towards this years’ occasion.
Even though in 2010 a volcano in Iceland, which was previously unheard of and which name still remains equal-to-impossible to remember (Eyjafjallajökull) filled most of Europe’s airspace with a massive cloud of fine ash, grounding air-traffic for days and disabling most of the registered European delegates of the WGC 2010 to reach their destination in Bali, the total number of participants at that event were told to be roughly twice as many as the 1300+ delegates attending this year’s congress. In addition I was briefed that the concurrent exhibition area in 2015, where the most important industry players of the geothermal field registered themselves to offer their various solutions and to secure new contracts was a mere shadow of the busy and teaming fair ground of its 2010 counterpart.
Despite there is a tremendous amount of new knowledge is being generated every year on a wide array of disciplines in relation to a number of key issues linked to deep geothermal energy the two major challenges are still to be come over without which deep geothermal energy cannot be hoped to become a global player. One of them is advanced drilling technologies and brand new concepts to significantly reduce drilling costs when targeting multi km deep water! bearing reservoirs. The other one is unlocking the technological challenges of delivering enhanced geothermal systems within the frame of routine and standard operations.
The next world geothermal congress in 2020 will be hosted by Iceland, which is the ultimate destination for everyone in the geothermal business. Even though there is still a long way to go till then the global geothermal community have to work even harder to bring forward those novel ideas that will help this energy source to take its rightfully earned place as the most reliable and available among all the renewables.
Fortunately the tight schedule of the congress did not prevent us from doing a bit of must-see tourism in and out Melbourne.
The city offers a lot to visit. The botanical garden has been one of the largest parks of Melbourne since its foundation in the mid-1800s; Albert Park gives you the opportunity to jog on an active Formula-1 track, and you also get the chance to visit the cottage where Captain James Cook had been brought up, and which was transported to Australia in the 1930s brick by brick, to be re-assembled in the Fitzroy Gardens. The list could go on and on and on…
The crown jewel of these small trips was the full-day excursion to the Twelve Apostles along the Great Oceanic Way, supposedly one of the best, and most scenic coastal routes in the world. Estimations say that there are 1.6 million visitors every year who seek to witness the grandeur of these magnificent rock formations, which is about 4000 tourists each and every day all year round. We tried to improve our chances for a more personalised trip and went for the mini-van trip with only 9 other people rather than enrolling to one of the commercial size coaches with 50 people aboard. Our guide did a great job explaining the history of the area, the geology of the Twelve Apostles and gave us a whole bunch of random but quite interesting stories and facts that are tied to the great Oceanic Way. For example: did you know that the rock formations were initially called the “sow and the piglets” and just got renamed in the mid 20th century to the more catchy and attracting Twelve Apostles. Or despite the name there are only 9 rock formations that still stand.
If your bucket list hasn’t included the Great Oceanic Way and the Twelve Apostles till now, grab a pen and add it to your list because it is really an experience of a lifetime. No matter how many pictures or documentaries you have seen about it, experiencing them in person is the real deal.
By: Istvan Pari