Hot Water Becoming a Hot Topic: Geothermal in India


With the debate over the viability of ethanol and other biofuels raging on (and on), some are betting – not on solar, not on wind power – but on geothermal power as the next best possible source of renewable energy (more information on geothermal here, here and here).

In the U.S., which has the world’s highest installed capacity of geothermal power, this form of renewable energy is not anything new. Not to be outdone, China has also recently jumped on the steam wagon so to speak, and now Iceland’s Glitnir Bank has announced a joint venture with India’s LNJ Bhilwara Group to pursue a huge untapped potential for geothermal options in India.With 80% of India’s electricity produced from coal, India is relatively new to the renewable energy market. India’s booming growth has meant that it has come under recent pressure to find ways to curb emissions that will not impede its economic development.

But looking into geothermal in India may take some time. According to Bala Kamallakharan, executive director of strategic growth at Glitnir: "There is a technology curve, and we believe in the next five years the technology curve will get more mature, wherein the potential will only increase."

More sophisticated geothermal technologies would mean that power can be drawn at lower temperatures and at more locations than previously possible.

Kamallakharan notes that India has some attractive economic incentives since the price for energy, which is subsidized by the government, is much higher than the U.S. "There are incentives for solar and wind and for small hydros. We believe we will be able to avail some of those benefits for geothermal as well."

Over the next five years, the Indian government is planning to spend $475 billion in energy investments, with $120 billion to $130 billion intended for tax credits, but it could be difficult to promote geothermal energy. "The Indian government is kind of skeptical, because there's been a lot of people who have talked about geothermal, but they've never done anything," explains Kamallakharan.

Still, except for the possible and literally earth-shaking ramifications, LNJ Bhilwara Group and especially Glitnir are demonstratively optimistic. Last year, Glitnir announced a $1 billion investment in geothermal in the U.S., in addition to opening an office in Shanghai for a geothermal district heating scheme in China, and it hopes to do the same in India. But whether geothermal will really heat up or sputter out in India (or China for that matter) remains to be seen.

Image: Richard Seaman

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