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Unlocking Geothermal Potential in Japan Through Small-scale Generation

MD Staff

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Thousands of natural hot springs (or onsen) dot Japan’s countryside, providing a haven for relaxation and contemplation for millions of people. For thousands of years, they have been an important part of the historical and social fabric of the country, and they are represented everywhere from famous ukioy-e woodblock prints from the 18th century to contemporary sitcoms.

Today, however, they have the potential to be an important part of the transformation of Japan’s energy sector, with a power output equivalent to 23 megawatts (MW) lying beneath the surface in the form of geothermal energy, the world’s third-largest store. The world’s installed capacity for geothermal power was 12.9 gigawatts (GW) in 2017, with a levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) for recent projects ranging from USD 0.04 to around USD 0.13 per kilowatt-hour.

Geothermal power plants are not new to Japan.  The first geothermal plant in the country opened in 1924 in Bepphu, with the steam also being used to heat houses and cook food in restaurants.  However, it wasn’t until 1952 when Japan’s first commercial geothermal power station opened, in the city of Hachimantai in northern Japan.  Built by Japan Metal & Chemicals and with turbines by Toshiba, the plant originally provided about 9.5 MW of power, about 40% of its output today, with the residual hot water used for agricultural applications.

Today, Toshiba is the world’s largest supplier of geothermal turbines, followed by Mitsubishi and Fuji, also Japanese companies.  Japan is also one of the world’s largest developers of geothermal projects outside of the country. In Indonesia, Japanese companies are currently financing and building the Sarulla plant, whose output once completed will be 320 MW, the world’s largest.  Japanese companies also support Kenya’s geothermal-powered energy transformation, providing turbines, supplying equipment, and constructing mega-projects like the 158 MW Olkaria V steam power plant in Naivasha.

But despite Japan’s technical and construction preeminence and its significant energy potential, there are only around twenty geothermal plants in Japan, with a total output capacity of around 535 MW, only 0.3% of the country’s total electricity generation.  High upfront costs and rigorous regulatory processes are some of the reasons that the Wasabizawa plant, currently under construction in Akita prefecture, is the first large-scale geothermal project in about 20 years.

However, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster the Japanese government introduced new policies to accelerate geothermal power plant deployment. These included streamlined procedures for the approval of projects in national parks and, crucially, a new higher feed-in tariff (FIT) for small geothermal plants to more than one-and-a-half times of that of larger facilities.  This made it profitable to build plants with an output below 7.5 MW, which do not require environmental impact assessments and can be built in around half the time of larger plants.

These policies have not been unopposed. More than half of the geothermal sources are located around national parks or near the country’s 27,000 thermal springs that onsen rely on for their hot water supply.  Critics believe that geothermal projects will adversely affect water supply or quality, or that the plants will have a detrimental impact on hot spring resorts or national parks.

As a result, an important role of the small-scale geothermal plants built since 2012 has been to work closely with onsen operators, hotels and inns to prove that small-scale geothermal power generation can coexist with tourism facilities, without negatively impacting Japan’s natural beauty.

The first geothermal plant established within a national park was in the Tsuchiyu Onsen hot spring resort in Fukushima city.  The plant uses binary cycle geothermal power generation, which relies on working fluids with a boiling point lower than water, such as ammonia or certain hydrocarbons, to drive the turbines. Small-scale binary plants are compact and can take as little as one year to build, and, with a wide distribution of the required low-medium temperature geothermal resources across the country, there is huge potential for this power source to grow in Japan.

The 2011 earthquake, tsunami and related nuclear accident, had a devastating effect on Fukushima, and on Tsuchiyu Onsen.  Aside from the catastrophic impact of the events themselves, the onsen saw a sharp drop in tourists and subsequent closure of a number of ryokan (traditional Japanese inns).  Undaunted, local residents determined to rebuild the town, forming the TsuchiyuOnsen Town Reconstruction and Revitalization Council to lead the creation of an eco-town relying on locally-available clean energy.

According to Katsuichi Kato, President of Genki Up Tsuchiyu, the company in charge of the geothermal power plant, the town started virtually from scratch, without any local expertise in binary power generation, and with substantial administrative and financial hurdles to overcome.  Despite this, the town remained resilient and all stakeholders—from ryokan and onsen tourism operators to those in charge of the power plant—worked together to bring about a “miracle”. As Mr. Kato put it, “When forced to stand at the edge of a cliff, unprecedented wisdom and power can arise, but you must have courage, determination and responsibility to make your vision of the future happen.”

For Mr. Kato, the success of the project hinged on the fact that the council developed the plant not solely as a profitmaking venture, ceding control and operations to outside experts, but as a revitalization exercise for the whole town.  This, he believes, imbued it with the sense of purpose and cooperation necessary to rally the spirit of the town to work together to develop a model for an eco-friendly town where benefits are shared.

And benefits there are.  According to Mr. Kato, the geothermal plant has been a boon to tourism, adding to the number of people coming to visit the onsen for recreation or health purposes.  This is supported by others, including Mr. Kazuhiro Watanabe, owner of the Sansuiso Tsuchiyu Spa, who points out that thousands of people come from all over Japan each year to learn about how the binary plant does not affect the onsen water, bringing a new source of income. As an added bonus, the warm waste water from the binary power plant is supporting aquaculture of giant river prawn. The prawn are served in local hotels and restaurants, and can also be fished by tourists.

Other projects have emulated the success of the Tsuchiyu Onsen geothermal plant. For example, in 2014 the 2 MW Kumamoto geothermal plant, built by Chuo Electric Power Company, was developed in close cooperation with a local hot spring company Waita-kai and the Oguni resort. In March of this year, oil company Idemitsu Kosan launched a 5MW binary facility in Oita prefecture. A 7 MW plant in Iwate prefecture is expected to begin operation later this year, and is being developed by a venture that includes Japan Metal & Chemicals.  Tokyo-based financial services company Orix plans to develop up to 15 small-scale facilities throughout the country, starting with a 4.4 MW plant on the island of Hachijojima in 2022.

Another innovative new approach is a small 70 KW power generator the size of a small freight container that uses hot springs already tapped for hotels and inns to produce power. Developed by Kobe Steel, the system is being introduced in hotels such as the Yufuin Spa in Yufuincho, who can expect to recoup their initial investment in only four years under the government FIT.

Strengthened research and development, especially with regards to binary and other low temperature systems, can further increase efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint of geothermal plants, while actively engaging onsen and tourism operators as partners in plant development will ensure mutual benefits while reducing negative perceptions.

For Japan, already a global leader in renewable energy technologies and development, that is looking to reduce the risks associated with nuclear energy and the costs and air pollution associated with fossil fuel imports, domestic geothermal energy development can be a win-win scenario.  Japan also has a lot to share in terms of its experience and innovations, and can take advantage of global platforms like the International Renewable Energy Agency and the Global Geothermal Alliance to continue to help other countries develop their own geothermal capacity.

IRENA

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Energy

Potential of Pakistan’s Power Sector

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A few years ago, several hours of load-shedding in Pakistan was very common, even in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan was without electricity for 6 hours on daily basis. Thanks to CPEC, thanks to China, who has completed several power projects and the people of Pakistan are relieved a lot. Now there is still load-shedding but only for couple of hours. The country was able to produce 16000 MW of electricity in the 7 decades almost. And most of the mega projects were completed in 1960s or 1970. Last 4 decades the nation was unable to add any significant amount of power into national grid.

China helped Pakistan to over-come its power shortage and just within few years, under CPEC, the country was able to add 11000 MW of power into National Grid. There are several power projects under execution or in the pipe line. It is believed, that next couple of years and we may get rid of load-shedding absolutely. However, it is also expected that due to planned industrialization, the demand may also increase tremendously. We still need to focus on the power generation, transmission and distribution. As the transmission is rather old and line losses are rather high. There is a need to up-grade our transmission system on urgent basis. The major issue is still the distribution, which resulted in theft of electricity. Line losses and theft made electricity rather expensive as it has to be recovered from consumers.

However, Pakistan possess potential of 65000 MW hydropower generation. Some of the sits are natural dams and suits for electricity production easily. Building big dams or mega dams, require a lot of investment as well as technical expertise too. But, small dams are easily constructed by our private sector. The requirement of investment is within the reach of our private sector and the technology required is also available within the country.

Dams also store water which will be additional value for Pakistan. As Pakistan is a country which faces water related disaster twice a year. During the rainy season, heavy rains causes flood every year and damages our crops, cattle’s, villages and loss of human live. Floods cause spread of seasonal diseases and epidemics also cause a big loss to nation. Just after a few month, Pakistan faces drought season too. During the drought season, water shortage cause big damage to human life and animals’ and husbandry. Crops suffered heavy losses due to shortage of water.

If appropriate dams are built, it may generate power to meet the national requirements as well it stores water during rainy season to avoid floods and utilize water during the drought season. We can overcome some of our serious problems by indigenous technology and domestic resources, without going to International donors.

Usually building big dams requires a long time 10-15 years, but our political system is based on 5 years tenure term. Most of political parties do not initiate any project, which cannot be completed within their tenure and they get benefits of completed projects during the election. As a practice, most of political parties never takes any initiatives, which may goes to credit of next government. But recently, Pakistani voters have become matured and they understands the worth of long term projects and may vote for those who are visionary leaders and sincere with Pakistan, and take long tern initiatives for the best interest of the nation. Our political parties may also up-date their strategies accordingly.

Not only hydropower, even Pakistan is rich with coal. Only Thar coal can meet the nation’s energy requirement for next 500 years. Coal technologies are on its path of rapid development. There exists technologies to convert coal into natural gas, or diesel. Coal can also help the whole downstream hydrocarbon industry too. Clean coal technologies are already applied in the field. Pakistan can be major beneficiary of its coal reserves.

God has blessed Pakistan with unlimited solar energy. There are areas in Pakistan, where the Sun shine duration is above 300 days in a year, and upto 18 hours of Sun shine on daily basis. This unique potential may be exploited for green and clean energy. Wind is also one of our strength.

What do we need? An enabling policy from Government of Pakistan. The policy may be focused to attract local entrepreneurs based on incentives. Sustainable and long term incentives, and protection may be the priority of Government. Our private sector possess the potential of rapid growth. It may include International market too. But the indigenous know-how and domestic investment may be given priority.

If PTI government can deliver something like this, their next elections are guaranteed to win.  As per my perception, Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan has vision, has will and sincere with the nation, based on our understanding, we expect he will take serious notice of things and include power sector in its priority too.

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Back to the future

Laszlo Varro

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In the classic Back to the Future movies, the future was powered by a decentralized clean-energy system. Houses and flying cars ran on fuel cells fuelled by residential garbage. The technology itself isn’t particularly far-fetched – not the flying car bit, but the process to power a fuel cell from hydrogen produced by methane from garbage is relatively straightforward for today’s biogas plants.

But time travel aside, what the 1980s vision of the future missed are the actual technologies that emerged started to reshape our energy system in the last three decades since the movies came out – namely wind, solar and battery electric cars. While the present of the energy system is strikingly similar to the 1980s with a practically unchanged domination of fossil fuels, the expectations of what will follow shifted. This is a very different future and one that creates a delicate challenge for the electricity sector.

Transport is a huge and growing energy consuming sector. It represents 28% of total final energy consumption, and is responsible for almost 60% of global oil demand. Electricity is used in transport, though today mostly in electric railways compared to which electric cars are still minor.

If garbage, or, in a more scalable fashion, biomass or hydrogen produced from natural gas, were to provide a clean-energy alternative for transport, the transport sector could move away from oil without integrating more deeply into the electricity sector. There would be no need to deploy new infrastructure to support electric car charging, no concerns about charging times and impacts on power flows, it would be business as usual for electricity.

In addition, garbage is easy to store, and fuel cells can regulate their production in a flexible fashion. In technical terms this creates decentralised dispatchable clean-energy production – meaning it can collect power into a central system, much like the current system. Such a technology would enable the continuation of a hundred-year paradigm of regarding electricity demand fluctuations as a given and managing the system from the supply side.

But, this market is tiny. Only a few thousand residential fuel cells are sold in Japan each year, nothing compared to the millions of solar panels sold around the world. To be sure, solar production varies with the weather and it is often not well correlated with demand. A solar rooftop with a battery in the garage seems like a perfect distributed dispatchable solution and generates increasing attention. However, more than 99% of the solar panels are deployed without batteries – their variability is handled at the system level rather than at a project level. In fact the optimal location is of batteries is often not next to the solar panel but in specific network nodes where their operation can relieve bottlenecks.

Solar and its twin brother, wind experienced a radical technological progress, cost declines and are rolled out at an impressive scale. While the energy system will continue to rely on a diversified set of fuels and technologies, the rapid growth of wind and solar will have to play a key role in tacking  disruptive climate change. Nevertheless, both of them generate electricity which accounts for only 20% of energy consumption today.  The full potential of wind and solar will be realised only if a much higher proportion of energy is consumed by electrifying other sectors, including transport. Such electrification not only reduces direct fossil fuel use in vehicles or buildings, but if done smartly it unlocks need new flexibility sources that wind and solar will need for really large-scale growth.

The transport technology that generates the most excitement is electric cars. Although personal cars represent only a minority of the oil use of the transport sector, electric cars capture public imagination in a fashion that is disproportional to their energy footprint. As a result, they tend to dominate discussions on the future of energy even though ships, aircraft or heavy trucks are most likely to continue to use oil for a considerable time. Linking electric cars to wind and solar creates major opportunities but also challenges. Cars and wind and solar production will need to interact through an interconnected system. An EV can’t be self-sufficient when coupled with a residential rooftop solar panel since solar production is low in the winter precisely when the car has a higher electricity need. In temperate climates, nearly all solar households remain connected to the grid with a changed utilisation pattern and wind is evolving towards a quintessential utility scale big business where technological progress makes wind turbines bigger and bigger rather than small and decentralised.

While early adopter electric cars used in suburban commuting can take advantage of the existing network and charge in the garage of the owner for mass adoption and long distance travel a new infrastructure development will be needed. High capacity chargers will require network reinforcements as well as a careful coordination of when the cars charge. Due to the energy density of hydrocarbons, it is not possible to copy the gasoline lifestyle to the electricity age. Plugging in and quickly filling the car at sunset will be part of the problem, responding to changes in wind with smart charging will be part of the solution.

A dominant role of electricity is not a new dream. The 19th-century science fiction novels of Jules Verne are full of electric cars, battery powered submarines and even electric helicopters. This electric future was delayed by the century of oil, but it is now arriving. Its features are becoming increasingly clear: A new electricity network that is more robust and more flexible at the same time. A new market design that is able to orient and optimise millions of producers, consumers and prosumers giving value to time and location. A new transport system where parking vehicles are not idle but act as active system assets.

Because of its security implications and importance to modern society, electricity will remain a heavily regulated industry where government policy plays a crucial role in guiding the transformation. This complex interplay of technology, investment, policy and regulation shaping the growing role of electricity will be depicted in the upcoming World Energy Outlook focus. In special effects, it might not be up to Hollywood’s standards, but it will be as exciting and innovative.

IEA

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Israel’s Gas Ambitions are Valid but Challenges Remain

Antonia Dimou

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The discovery of Israel’s natural gas resources promise important benefits of energy security and economic gains. Israel is a leading country because preparations to extract gas are already at advanced stages despite that its gas fields’ development has proved to be a lengthy process.

Delays are attributed to the fact that the fields’ development is capital intensive and entails risks that unsettle investors. A major risk is the lack of energy transportation infrastructure in Israel. Leviathan field partners namely Noble Energy, Avner Oil Exploration, Ratio Oil Exploration and Delek Drilling are likely to develop infrastructure used exclusively by Leviathan, blocking out competitors and endangering prospects for future gas discoveries in Israel. In particular, the likelihood that competitors will have to finance their own transportation infrastructure, raises the costs of developing smaller fields at prohibitive levels. Concurrently, the Israeli Leviathan field’s development, the largest exploration success since December 2010,is capital intensive given that it requires significant investment that will be carried out in two stages: the first stage foresees four development wells with an annual capacity production of 12 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, and, the second, four additional wells that would increase production capacity by another 9 bcm.

In regional terms, Israel’s efficiency as a gas exporter is significant. This is evidenced by the signing in early 2018 of two agreements valued $15 billion between Leviathan and Tamar fields’ consortium and Egyptian company Dolphinus Holdings for the provision of 64 bcm of gas over a ten-year period. The agreement are expected to produce three benefits. First, Egypt is a viable export market for Israeli gas and will thus generate interest from foreign energy companies to bid for licenses in future Israeli international auction rounds. Second, the Israeli government would benefit financially from royalties on sales and taxes on profits. Third, Leviathan partners will secure funding for the field’s development.

Reservations however subsist when it comes to the transportation of Israeli gas to Egypt via the existing pipeline infrastructure in Sinai as terrorist attacks on the pipeline could halt exports from Israel as it happened in 2012. The prospect of terrorism raises the cost of the Israeli fields’ development because of the increased risk premium. It is in this spirit that the construction of a subsea gas pipeline that connects Israel to Egypt could present a safer option. In any case, transportation of Israeli gas to Egypt is not only a milestone in regional gas cooperation, but also supports authentic Israel-Egypt normalization.

Israeli government interference in the form of heavy regulation and bureaucracy is a self-inflicted wound that prevents foreign energy companies from participating in bidding processes. Despite the approval of a revised framework for gas regulation by the Israeli government,  the first Israeli bidding process received limited attention taking into account that only a Greek energy company and a consortium of Indian companies participated. Notably, the main outlines of the revised gas regulatory framework included the mandatory sale by Delek Group Ltd, Avner Oil & Gas LP and Delek Drilling LP of all their rights in the Israeli Tanin and Karish fields that are currently owned by Greek Eneregan Oil & Gas Company; and, a stability clause which foresees that the Israeli government guarantees regulatory stability for ten years.

On a parallel level, overlapping maritime claims between Israel and Lebanon over a 854-square kilometer maritime boundary carry the risk of escalation. The January 2018 signing of Lebanon’s first exploration and production agreement (EPA) with a consortium of companies led by French Total as operator, and Italian Eni and Russian Novatek as partners signals competition that could evolve into confrontation over energy resources. Undoubtedly, in the absence of mutual diplomatic recognition between Lebanon and Israel, no trans-boundary natural resource sharing initiative can be taken. The consortium’s announcement that no operation within 25 km of the disputed area will happen leaves room for a third party mediation to minimize the risk of armed conflict and to work on reciprocal acceptance of the 2012 American proposal so that consensual and authorized economic activity becomes feasible. Noteworthy, the 2012 American proposal involved division of the disputed area granting Lebanon a larger share with the aim to serve as basis of bilateral discussions and be deposited with the UN.

To fulfill its energy potential, Israel should speedy proceed with the supply of gas pumped directly from the Leviathan and Tamar fields to LNG plants in Egypt as this will benefit both Egypt’s natural gas industry and development of Israeli fields.  Israel should also invest in security of its energy supply to refute the notion of insecurity that prevents foreign energy companies from investing in the country’s gas fields. Equally important, risks that concern investors like export sustainability should be addressed by guaranteeing a certain amount of financial recovery though the existing compensation mechanism. A transparent and predictable Israeli regulatory environment for foreign investors and access to external sources of project finance and loan guarantees and production commitments in Israel are important for the development of export oriented gas resources.

Unquestionably, decisive steps have to be taken by Israel so that a new horizon is revealed; the horizon of indigenous energy development.

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