After years of neglect, geothermal hunt surges
The Philippines―thanks to its spot in the Ring of Fire zone of Pacific volcanoes―has long been one of the world’s top producers of geothermal power, but years of neglect have sent the industry sliding. Now a surge of new exploration efforts are under way in a nation that has some of the world’s largest untapped sources of volcanic heat, but which relies on coal for half its electricity. “It’s an exciting development,” Enrique Nuñez, the country director for Conservation International, told AFP. “In an environment where coal is king, this is good stuff.” One of the nation’s freshly upgraded plants, Maibarara, puffs out white steam from shining metal stacks on a jungle-covered hillside about an hour south of Manila. High-temperature water vapor from the Earth’s red-hot underbelly is piped to the surface where it makes power-producing turbines spin. “There is no smoke,” said facility manager Paul Elmer Morala. “Only a bit of noise, but our neighbors don’t complain.” The Philippines was for years the world’s number two, behind the United States, in drilling deep to tap the scorching hot steam. But as the nation’s economy has boomed in recent decades, it has opted to feed its needs with cheaper and quicker-to-develop plants that burn fossil fuels. The amount of its power from geothermal sources has stayed relatively constant since 2002, while coal and gas-powered production has nearly tripled. Early in 2018, the Philippines lost its number two geothermal status, which it had held for over two decades when Indonesia finished its massive Sarulla project. AFP That demotion was years in the making for a country which had an initial rush of geothermal exploration in the 1970s and 1980s in response to the world’s first global oil crisis. Decades of neglect followed until a growing global commitment to slow climate change led to the Philippines passing a law a decade ago to spur renewable energy investments.