Does geothermal energy cause volcanoes?

volcano indonesia Ormat

Could the Ormat geothermal project at Sarulla in Sumatra, Indonesia have caused the recent volcano? Worries about Ormat’s geothermal and the volcano in Indonesia are unfounded

Despite the truly apocalyptic danger to the climate that fossil energy poses, it always seems to me that it is renewable energy that gets more than its fair share of worries about its safety. Will solar use water? Will wind kill birds? Does geothermal cause volcanoes? Could Ormat’s proposed 330 megawatt geothermal plant in Sarulla, North Sumatra be unsafe? Last year, our own Maurice Picow posed the query.

Ormat Technologies Inc. (ORA (NYSE)) is a provider of alternative and renewable energy technology based in Reno, Nevada. But the company was founded by Israelis who started solar thermal energy in Israel. The Bronickis. The company has built over 150 power plants and installed over 2,000 MW. As of February 2016 Ormat owns and operates 697 MW of geothermal and recovered energy based power plants.

“One small problem – there is a chance that Ormat’s technology might cause a volcano eruption”.

Now that there has been a volcano, a little over a year later, was it in fact due to geothermal drilling?  Was Ormat’s Sarulla plant connected with the recent earthquake of Mt Merapi, in Indonesia? Could it be Ormat’s fault?

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No, actually. Even if geothermal does provoke volcanic activity, the project has not been built, yet. Because of pricing disputes, only finally resolved in 2010, field development and power plant construction has yet to be started.

The price had doubled by this year from the original estimates when the project was initially proposed in 2005, to US$1 billion. PLN, the Indonesian electric company that was to buy the power had previously agreed to pay $0.0464 per KWh in a power purchase agreement, but with the cost rises since 2005, the consortium of developers that included Ormat was no longer able to offer power at that price. The new deal was finally signed in April 2010 for $0.0679 per kWh for 30 years, just under 7 cents.

So, a non existent (yet) geothermal project cannot cause a volcano.

But the second reason is just simple geography. Even if the geothermal project had been begun, it is a good 2,313 kilometers (1,437 miles) from where the volcano erupted.

That is about twice the distance from Jerusalem to Mecca.

Indonesia  was already going out on a limb, for a largely Muslim nation, that has no diplomatic relationship with Israel, to work with a part-Israeli firm as part of the consortium developing the Sarulla project. Ormat owns 12.75 percent and provides the engineering know-how to a consortium that  includes  PT Medco Energi Internasional which owns 37.25 percent of the project,  Itochu (25 percent) and Kyushu Electric (25 percent).

ormat geothermal indonesia map earthquake

The plant will use Ormat’s Geothermal Combined Cycle Units (GCCU) which are more efficient than conventional steam power plants. These will capture the steam from the wells and produce energy throughout the day without any interruptions, and geothermal fluids are to be re-injected in the underground wells to avoid depletion of the gases. In a highly sustainable design, the steam itself will also not be released into the atmosphere, but will be recycled back through the ground.

Indonesia, a developing nation, highly dependent on its oil for electricity, is to be commended for encouraging clean energy development.

Like other nations in the “ring of fire,” it has high volcanic risk. And yes, that usually goes together with greater geothermal potential. From California, Japan, New Zealand and Indonesia,where there is volcanic activity, there is geothermal potential.  In Indonesia’s case, enough to produce 27,000 mgw of electricity for a nation sorely in need of new electricity sources.

Image: Google Maps

Related stories:
Successful Ormat Waste Heat Recovery Test Could Green Dying Oil Fields
Sunday And Ormat Build Largest Solar Roof in the Middle East
Ormat Taps Into Geo-Thermic Volcano Energy In Indonesia

Volcano and Hurricane Damages Ormat’s Guatemala Geothermal Plant, Minimal Damage and No Lives Lost

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4 thoughts on “Does geothermal energy cause volcanoes?”

  1. Max, thanks for catching that ! I must have been asleep. I quoted this,

    …but it is obviously wrong, as you note. On further research, the Jakarta Post has it right, at “close to 7 cents a kWh”, $0.0679 per kWh, which makes sense, it is about like wind power.

  2. Max says:

    I think that power price ($6.79) must be MWh.

  3. Bob Wallace says:

    We have, what, millions of oil wells drilled deep into the Earth. We’ve got lots of coal mines, diamond mines and all sorts of mines that go very deep.

    Has any of this activity ever created a volcano? Even when geologists hit magma while drilling in Hawaii did it cause a volcano?

    Do some people ever engage their critical thinking abilities?

    1. Precisely. The oil industry is the richest in the world so these nagging worries only affect renewable energy.

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