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India’s geothermal energy still at a nascent stage; here’s what is needed to unleash its full potential

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Geothermal energy uses the heat generated by the Earth's core to produce clean energy. A series of wells is used to generate steam from the Earth’s internal heat energy and fed to the power plant to generate electricity

India’s geothermal energy still at a nascent stage; here’s what is needed to unleash its full potential

In its quest to increase its renewable energy portfolio, the government needs to tap into the potential of geothermal energy sources, which is still at a nascent stage. The Geological Survey of India (GSI) along with CSIR-National Geophysical Research Institute has been carrying out preliminary resource assessments for the exploration and use of geothermal resources since the 1970s.

What is geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy uses the heat generated by the Earth's core to produce clean energy. A series of wells is used to generate steam from the Earth’s internal heat energy and fed to the power plant to generate electricity.

It is the only renewable energy sources that is unaffected by day-night or seasonality variance and is available 24x7.

Governments across the globe are financially backing geothermal electric power generation through grants to stimulate sustainable form of energy.

In 2019, the US department of energy said it would contribute $2 million to support the advance geothermal research and development in Geothermica, a transnational consortium to promote uses of geothermal energy in the European Union, the "Geothermal Electricity Global Market Report 2022" study by ReportLinker said.

Geothermal provinces in India

There are seven geothermal provinces and a number of geothermal springs in India. According to the ministry of new and renewable energy, India has the potential to generate 10 gigawatt (GW) geothermal power.

This year, state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) embarked on its maiden geothermal field development project in Ladakh, PTI had reported earlier. The field development of the project will take place in three phases. In the first phase, ONGC will drill wells and set up a pilot plant of up to 1 megawatt (MW) power capacity. In the second phase, ONGC will drill optimal number of wells and set up a higher capacity demo plant. The final phase will involve commercial development of the geothermal plant.

Although the Geological Survey of India (GSI) had discovered the Puga and Chumathang regions in eastern Ladakh as promising geothermal fields in India in the 1970s, development efforts by the government and private companies to exploit the energy did not materialise for some reasons, ONGC had said in the statement.

Challenges to geothermal energy

Production of geothermal electricity is very high and may require Rs 40 crore to produce 1 MW for a site that needs to be drilled more than 200 meters, a report by Tehelka said.

Though the cost of production is likely to decrease substantially with more projects being implemented, technology and equipment for such large-scale projects, which come from foreign countries, adds to the burden.

Meanwhile, private initiatives in the field have been unsuccessful. GeoSyndicate Power Private Ltd failed to set up a 50 MWe power plant in Puga in 2005 for generating power.

What will it take to unleash the potential?

The government has failed to prioritise geothermal energy, unlike solar power. With the advantages becoming too obvious to ignore, scientists hope that the scenario may change down the line.

Apart from Ladakh, there is abundant potential in Himachal Pradesh too which has several sources of geothermal energy along the rivers Alaknanda, Sutlej, Beas and Bhagirathi. The state government needs to focus on these sources to unlock the potential of geothermal energy.

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