Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Call for geothermal power subsidies

Thursday 18/11/2010 Page: 5

AUSTRALIA risks being left behind in the development of geothermal power unless it introduces a subsidy to support the fledgling industry, an expert in the field warns. Jorg Baumgartner, chief executive of Bestec, a geothermal consultancy and drilling company, said geothermal power was advancing in countries such as Germany, France and even Indonesia because of established subsidies.

Dr Baumgartner, in Adelaide for the Australian Geothermal Energy Association's conference, said the take-up rate of geothermal in Germany had "increased 1000%" following the introduction of the Renewable Energy Act, which includes feed-in tariffs for renewables.

"The German government has made it clear that it doesn't want to be supporting geothermal power forever, but it is obvious that these projects need a subsidy to get going", he said. "Nuclear had subsidies to get going, coal did, all of them in fact. We need this, not forever but just until it gets off the ground. Countries like Australia that don't introduce subsidies will find it much harder".

Geothermal power uses heat from the Earth's core to generate hot water and steam, which is then brought to the surface to run turbines. Germany has about six geothermal projects feeding power into the grid. Dr Baumgartner is also an independent non-executive director of Australian company Green Rock Energy, which is using geothermal energy to power air conditioners at the University of Western Australia.

Susan Jeanes, chief executive of the Australian Geothermal Energy Association, said the Gillard government needed to support its own research, which found that geothermal energy could provide the cheapest source of clean energy. "In Australia, the Commonwealth has recognised that the development of new technologies has to be supported with $2.5 billion for clean coal and $1.6 billion for solar, but geothermal is more advanced around the world than clean coal and will be a third to half of the cost of solar for at least the next two decades", she said.