Hot Rocks Down Under Get $43M


Following yesterday’s news that Google has invested more than $10 million in geothermal R&D, the Australian government has announced a A$50 million (US$43.5 million) project to tap into the nation’s geothermal energy. It’s an avalanche of hot rock investments. Aussie authorities estimate that just 1 percent of the nation’s untapped geothermal energy could produce 26,000 years worth of clean electricity, Reuters reports.

The $50 million Geothermal Drilling Program will be doled out as grants to the geothermal industry to defray the cost of drilling deep wells. Australia currently gets nearly 80 percent of its energy from dirty coal but the government has set a goal of getting 20 percent of the nation’s energy from renewable sources by 2020. A report released this week by the Australian Geothermal Energy Association estimates than a A$12 billion ($10.36 billion) investment would yield 2,200 megawatts of installed geothermal capacity, satisfying about 40 percent of the government’s clean energy goal.

The investment is part of larger shift going on Down Under. The new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol earlier this year (leaving the U.S. as the sole developed nation yet to do so) and has made clean energy a priority for Australia, which is the world’s leading coal exporter.

The country is also a large uranium exporter, but Resources Minister Martin Ferguson recently said that while mining should continue for export, Australia itself doesn’t need the nuclear power. “The position of the Government is very clear: We will not support nuclear power in Australia because we don’t need to,” Mr Ferguson told ABC Radio.

Instead, Ferguson is pushing geothermal hard. Unlike other renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, geothermal energy is capable of providing base-load energy, not subject to intermittent winds or a setting sun. This sort of base-load capacity could directly replace coal-fired power plants.

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