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Jakarta Post

The momentum to develop geothermal power plants

  • George Barber

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, March 10, 2016   /  09:08 am

Geothermal appears to be the buzz word. The government has set targets to increase the share of renewable energy in total energy use to 19 percent by 2019 and 25 percent by 2025, an increase from about 5 percent and 6 percent at present.

This is monumental, especially when we take into consideration the progress of the country'€™s geothermal development since a pre-feasibility study for electricity generation was initiated in 1972 by Geothermal Energy New Zealand. There appears to be momentum and the will, which means there is a way if minds are open to innovative ideas and not stuck in the old ways.

Pertamina has just won a bid for the Mt. Lawu geothermal power plant. They won this by offering a low electricity rate of 10 US cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) against Star Energy with a price of 14 US cents per kWh, nearly half of the price.

This spells trouble in the future. It appears that the new regulation will allow foreign investors to hold 100 percent of a geothermal power plant with a capacity of 10 MW or more will not be attractive if such low tariffs are going to be the normal.

Pertamina Geothermal Energy (PGE) now plans to follow up with an exploration survey, evaluation of moves to determine drilling coordinates and preparations for exploration drilling, including obtaining permits, which will take some time.

The results of the exploration will determine the next steps, it was also stated that geothermal power plant developments are considered time-consuming, with the exploration stage alone possibly taking around five years before construction of a power plant can begin.

There are a large number of potential geothermal sites spread across this vast country but many are difficult to access with traditional exploration strategies. Many areas will be covered by canopy while other areas will have difficult or practically impassable terrain.

Other complications also exist such as the complexity of the subsurface geology that can pose challenges to seismic data collection, which include steep subsurface bedding, salt, pre-salt deposits, and impenetrable beds such as basalt.

In these cases, the seismic signal can be excessively reduced with the loss in value of its results. These are inherent problems that need to be addressed with creative thinking, especially in geothermal areas of interest that are often characterized by and directly related to volcanism.

To arrive at the '€œgoal'€ that has been set by the Indonesian government, innovative technologies that are able to pre-stage exploration by satellite derived data that reduces the time, cost and risk need to be used.

To survey all of the potential geothermal sites individually by traditional methods will take time, time that is not on Indonesia'€™s side if the targets and goals are to be met.

Any organization, which includes the government and Pertamina has to de-risk the exploration phase of any given project, they need to lower the cost, reduce the time and increase the potential of success by 70 percent or more. This is difficult to achieve by traditional exploration methods only, innovative exploration tools need to be used in conjunction with traditional tools, which then become tools of confirmation and not exploration.

Traditional methods of exploration takes time, the cost and the risks are high, they can also cause untold environmental damage. International financial institutions (IFIs) are reluctant to fund up-front exploration costs and typically will provide financing only once 50 percent or more of the steam resource is proven.

As with any problem or problems, a solution must be found. Are there solutions to the problems that will delay the '€œGoal'€ of the Indonesian government? In short, the answer is yes. It is called: Exploration by Innovative Technology (EIT)

EIT allows large areas to be covered in months rather than years. It allows potential geothermal locations to be defined regionally and locally with location and depth, where confirmation can then be made by seismic observations with processing of the data by scattered waves instead of reflected waves for the fracturing; which is the No. 1 requirement for a geothermal system.

EIT allows the whole area to be surveyed, a survey that is environmentally friendly and does not disturb the local community. The results allow an area to be reduced to the most prospective parts, which will provide substantial savings in regard to the exploration and drilling in '€œempty'€ areas). The total exploration budget could be reduced by three to five times.

License acquisitions and land agreements are expensive and time-consuming. Screening or pre-staging of prospective sites is a very efficient method, where recommendations to discard or approve a location can be made without even going to the area

The end result of as EIT survey is the determination of structure contours and target depth(s). It is estimated, that the success rate could be increased to at least 70 percent.

The government, investors and the industry need to work together to achieve their mutual goals.

An examination of the government policy that is related to the exploration industry is in order, but first and foremost we must further de-risk exploration investment, and use innovative, cost-effective tools which can bridge the gap. They are readily available and have proven track records.

As successes are achieved, confidence will increase and the development of the geothermal industry in Indonesia will begin to accelerate. The elusive goal of clean, green energy independence is brought into focus and clearly within reach if we add modern tools to the mix.

To arrive at the '€œgoal'€ of energy and power independence, innovative technologies that do reduce time, cost and risk must be used. To survey all of the potential geothermal sites individually by traditional methods will take time, time that is not on Indonesia'€™s side if the targets goals are to be met.

The writer, a hydrographic surveyor by background has been involved in various exploration projects in Indonesia for the past 22 years.

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