Global Geothermal Getting A World Bank Bump

Geothermal, the renewable energy source with so much going for it but so many hurdles to overcome, is getting some help from the World Bank.

The bank this week called on “donors, multilateral banks, governments and the private sector” to back its Global Geothermal Development Plan, which is aimed at supporting exploratory drilling that can help build a steady pipeline of “commercially viable projects that are ready for private investment.”

world bank geothermal

The Neal Hot Springs project in Oregon (image via U.S. Geothermal)

As the Worldwatch Institute reported recently, geothermal has continued to grow in recent years, but at ever-slower rates. According to the institute:

The majority of geothermal power is found in a select group of countries, although capacity has now been developed in 24 countries worldwide. The United States continues to lead all others, accounting for 28 percent of geothermal power capacity. Beyond the U.S., only three other countries had over 1 GW of capacity installed as of May 2012. Geothermal is increasingly attracting the attention of policymakers and project developers with new projects under development or consideration in an additional 70 countries. Though expanding, geothermal sources accounted for less than 1 percent of global electricity production in 2011.

Geothermal can be a great resource to develop because, for one thing, it can act as a baseload power provider (unlike wind and solar, which certainly have their own many plusses). As the U.S. Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Office says, “it supplies clean, renewable power around the clock, emits little or no greenhouse gases, and takes a very small environmental footprint to develop.”

At the same time, geothermal is one of the more speculative renewable energy forms, with long development timelines that always seem to be fraught with obstacles, be they financial or technical.

That’s where the World Bank is hoping to build a bridge from possibility to reality. As the bank said:

The Global Geothermal Development Plan expands on previous efforts by its global scope, and its focus on test drilling. It will identify promising sites and leverage financing for exploratory drilling, to develop commercially viable projects.  The Plan’s initial target is to mobilize US$500 million. Donors can participate by identifying viable projects, and through bilateral assistance, as well as by contributing to existing channels such as the Climate Investment Funds or the Global Environment Facility.

The bank identified a handful of specific regions where geothermal could expand – East Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America and the Andean region. “Already, the World Bank and Iceland are working together under a ‘Geothermal Compact’ to support surface exploration studies and technical assistance for countries in Africa’s Rift Valley – Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia are participating with Zambia expected to join soon,” the bank said.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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