KEY POINTS

  • Installed geothermal capacity will surge to 24 gigawatts, or GW, by 2025 from 16 GW at the end of 2020
  • This expansion of geothermal systems will attract total investments of $25 billion in the next five years
  • Some countries in Europe are soon expected to invest heavily in geothermal energy.

Geothermal power — the generation of steam energy produced by heat emanating from molten core — will sharply increase in production and usage over the next five years.

Rystad Energy, an energy research firm based in Oslo, Norway, said that the world’s installed geothermal capacity — the maximum output of power that can be produced under ideal conditions — will surge to 24 gigawatts, or GW, by 2025 from 16 GW at the end of 2020.

Currently, installed geothermal capacity is led by the U.S. (with 4 GW), followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey and Italy.

This expansion of geothermal systems will attract total investments of $25 billion in the next five years, Rystad Energy estimated, on top of the $40 billion invested in new geothermal energy developments in the 2010s.

In addition, the number of new geothermal wells drilled around the world will jump from 223 in 2019 to 380 in 2025.

“Many of these [geothermal] projects are still on the drawing board and will have to compete with other renewable sources such as wind and solar,” said Audun Martinsen, Rystad Energy’s head of energy service research. “However, contrary to wind and solar, the surface footprint of a geothermal plant has the advantage of being much lower in terms of square kilometers per [megawatt] of produced electricity.”

Rystad Energy noted that some countries in Europe are soon expected to invest heavily in geothermal energy.

For example, Germany already has 37 operational geothermal power plants, mostly in the province of Bavaria. But Germany plans to construct another 16 plants over the next few years, requiring the drilling of 20 additional wells per year.

There are at present 3,200 active geothermal wells around the world.

The two largest geothermal plant owners in the world are Calpine Corp. of Houston and Ormat Technologies of Reno, Nevada. Both have an installed capacity of around 1,200 megawatts of electric power.

“Historically, geothermal projects have been developed in countries with high [thermodynamic] resources, which are associated with active volcanic areas such as in Iceland, Italy and Turkey,” Rystad Energy said.

In Iceland, Rystad Energy noted, conventional geothermal wells are drilled down to a depth of up to 8,200 feet to reach temperatures of up to 840 degrees Fahrenheit.

“These naturally occurring pockets of volcanic system heat create a favorable environment from which to generate geothermal energy,” Rystad Energy stated. “Geothermal plants can be developed in… non-volcanic regions, but deeper drilling is required to reach the correct temperature [levels].”

And now even the International Space Station is helping to explore for geothermal fields on the earth.

ThinkGeoEnergy reported that a sensor on the International Space Station – which is a multi-agency station in low orbit over the earth – can map small variations in surface temperatures, facilitating the search for attractive geothermal sites.

The sensor is used by researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands with participation from Australia, New Zealand and Kenya.

University of Twente-researcher Dr. Chris Hecker told UToday, a Dutch news outlet, that the aforementioned sensor on the International Space Station – called ECOSTRESS -- helps search for geothermal areas, “which we could use for sustainable electricity production and heating.”

Hecker further noted that using the space station is an improvement over using orbiting satellites.

“The space station offers a completely different platform,” Hecker said. “It has its own orbit and can obtain much finer images. It simply allows you to observe things that other satellites don’t… You can also use it to monitor [the] temperature of rocks. That way we can find areas with higher heat flux from the earth: the geothermal fields.”

Due to its volcanic geology, Indonesia is considered to be at the forefront of geothermal energy developments.

As part of a broader deep dive into renewables, a subsidiary of Indonesian energy company Star Energy Geothermal, Barito Pacific, plans to issue two “green bonds” valued at $1.1 billion which will be used to finance geothermal operations at plants in Darajat and Salak in Indonesia.

Star Energy has the exclusive right to explore, develop and use geothermal energy in Darajat and Salak. The two projects combined can produce electrical energy with a capacity of 647.8 megawatts.