Monday, 4 June 2012

For future energy, volcanic Indonesia bets on heat
28 May 2012

Indonesia, the country with the world's largest number of active volcanoes, is betting that all the hot rocks will provide a clean and reliable energy source for the future. The country is believed have 40% of the world's geothermal energy resources. But making geothermal energy economically feasible will require adjusting the country's heavily subsidized energy prices. And that issue is a political hot potato.

Unused Potential
Steam is visible from miles away as it billows into the sky over Kawah Kamojang, Indonesia's first geothermal field in West Java. Some of the steam is piped into a plant, where it turns turbines and generates electricity that is fed into the national power grid. It's is run by the geothermal arm of the state-owned oil company Pertamina. "This area", explains plant manager Tavip Dwikorianto, "used to be a volcano that erupted and collapsed, forming a large crater. Heat comes up from faults inside the crater. The heat is released through vents and hot springs around the crater".

In many spots near the Kamojang plant, boiling hot water with the sulfurous smell of rotten eggs gushes from the ground. Indonesia has around 130 active volcanoes, strung out through the archipelago. At present, Indonesia is only using about half a GW of its estimated potential of 28 GWs of geothermal energy. That potential is roughly equivalent to 12 billion barrels of oil. Until 1996, Indonesia produced more oil than it could consume, so there was little incentive to invest in geothermal, and it is still cheaper to produce electricity by burning oil or coal.

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