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Geothermal: a key component for sustainable development and climate action

Geothermal energy – the heat from the earth – has been utilised by mankind for centuries across the world. In some cultures, it was used for heating, cooking and bathing; while in others, areas with geothermal manifestations such as hot springs, geysers and fumaroles were revered as sacred sites. In the early 20th century, the world’s first power plant running on geothermal steam was developed in Italy. Since then, geothermal utilisation for electricity generation has grown to around 16,000 megawatts (MW) in 2021 while heating and cooling applications in buildings, industries, bathes and agriculture reached around 107,000 MW in 2020.

Besides electricity generation and heating and cooling applications, extraction and utilisation of dissolved substances such as lithium, silica and zinc among others from geothermal fluids is in the early stages of development. These opportunities for multiple utilisation streams, differentiate geothermal resources from other energy sources. In addition, geothermal has one of the lowest life cycle greenhouse gas emission and water utilisations factors, particularly in binary power plants with 100 per cent reinjection of fluids, as well as one of the highest power plant availability factors.

The growth in geothermal energy deployment has been driven by several factors. The need to develop local and reliable energy sources to ensure energy security was a major factor behind the “geothermal boom” of the 1980s and 90s in the United States leading to the development of about 2,000 MW of electricity. Due to the unpredictable hydrological cycle which affected the reliability of hydropower as a baseload source of electricity in Kenya in the late 1990s, the country embarked on massive geothermal development in the 2000s, growing its electricity capacity by more than 700 MW in 20 years, leading to about 46 per cent of its electricity generation coming from geothermal sources in 2022.

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To read the full version of the opinion editorial, download our third e-book about the potential of geothermal energy development in Central Eastern Europe.

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