Development of geothermal energy in the Philippines

Geothermal plant in the Philippines

Where it is available, geothermal power is an almost perfect source of energy: much cleaner than fossil fuels, it is often renewable. Geothermal has greatly benefited the Philippines: limiting dependence on imports of hydrocarbons, it has also helped create technologies and know-how that can now be exported.

The principle of geothermal energy

Hot steam that springs out of the ground in certain countries and regions of the world may be canalized to power electricity-generating turbines. Usually, water can also be pumped back in the ground to maintain the source of steam and continue the cycle.

Geothermal plant diagram
Diagram of a geothermal plant

Though scaling the production of geothermal energy can be a problem in some areas, geothermal power produces electricity with very little pollution. Through the process of “reinsertion” water is pumped back in the ground, the underground reserves and spring of steam thus remain constant, and electricity production is perpetuated.

To tackle its dependence on foreign oil and rising prices in the 1970’s, the Philippines has engaged in the development of geothermal energy with the help of New Zeland. Thanks to its location in a very active ground area, the Philippines has therefore found in geothermal an abundant source of clean energy to power its need for electricity.

With 22% of geothermal in the Philippines’energy mix in 2011, this abundant and clean resource now makes the Philippines the world’s second largest producer of geothermal electricity behind the US.

Energy mix in the Philippines in 2011
Energy mix in the Philippines in 2011

Developing geothermal in the Philippines and abroad

The benefits for the economy are such that the Philippine government has set the ambitious goal of doubling its production of geothermal energy by 2030. Richard B. Tantaco, president of the Energy Development Corporation, estimates that to reach this target the government will need to exempt geothermal developments in natural parks.

With more than 30 years of experience in developing and commercializing geothermal energy, the Energy Development Corporation now looks abroad to export its technologies and know-how. It notably works in Indonesia, Chile and Peru, countries where geothermal energy can be a scalable and commercially viable source of electricity, and which need to reduce their imports of natural gas, coal and oil.

Costs and revenues of geothermal energy

Diagram of cost and production of a geothermal plant over time
Diagram of cost and production of a geothermal plant over time

Exploration for geothermal energy is often costly and risky: finding suitable geothermal fields is never guaranteed. Yet, when a proper geothermal area has been found, the production costs are diminishing over time, allowing to compensate initial investments and generate important benefits for a very long time.

For more information on energy in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, check:

CNN video from February 2013. Images sources:  Population Education / RigzoneThe Oil Drum

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