PH geothermal energy exploration revived

Basic Energy begins drilling Batangas geothermal plant

After decades of neglect, the Philippines has put new focus on the exploration of geothermal power as an energy source.

The government launched a string of new exploration surveys in June on top of roughly 10 partnership contracts on drilling exploratory wells in a bid to double geothermal’s contribution to the energy mix by 2040.

“It’s an exciting development,” Enrique Nunez, the country director for Conservation International, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “In an environment where coal is king, this is good stuff”.

The Philippines’ seven geothermal fields supply about 12 percent of the nation’s energy, giving the country the fifth-largest geothermal reserves, behind only the United States, Indonesia, Japan and Kenya.

But the Philippines was once the world’s number two when it comes to geothermal power, only second to the United States.

As the economy boomed, the Philippines resorted to cheaper and quicker-to-develop plants that burn fossil fuels to address the need for energy.

The amount of power from geothermal sources remained stagnant since 2002 while coal and gas-powered resources nearly tripled. In early 2018, the Philippines lost its number two spot when Indonesia finished its Sarulla geothermal project.

Though nominally free, finding the resource is an expensive enterprise, with exploration wells costing up to $8 million each with no guarantee of success.

“Geothermal is that risky,” said Ariel Fronda, head of the renewables division of the Philippine energy ministry told AFP, with the government requiring at least two wells per private exploration project in order to more accurately estimate the yield of a site.

But despite lagging behind, the Philippines can still be an important player in geothermal according to renewable energy expert with US-based Atlantic Council think-tank David Livingston.

“The Philippines can serve as a catalyst for other developing nations’ interest in geothermal, particularly if its newest… programmes prove successful,” he said.