Fiji’s geothermal future at a glance
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About half of Fiji's electricity comes from rainfall. Most
of the other half is produced by generators powered by diesel engines.
In 2006, diesel fuel cost the Fiji Electricity Authority almost $100
million. The cost of fuel is a major factor limiting growth in Fiji.
The conclusion is simple: Fiji needs more capacity to
generate electricity if the nation's economy is to develop strongly, but
also needs to reduce the amount of diesel fuel used.
Fortunately, Fiji is on the "Ring of Fire" -- a zone
around the Pacific Ocean that contains about two-thirds of the world's
active volcanoes. Although Fiji does not have volcanoes, the earth's
inner heat is close to the surface on Vanua Levu and Viti Levu. Hot
water and steam from beneath the earth can be used to generate
Producing geothermal electricity
Electricity can be generated if there is enough flow of water and it is hot enough. The process of geothermal
power generation is as follows:
> Deep holes are drilled to gain access to hot water underground.
> The heat in the water is extracted to generate steam, which rotates a turbine at very high speed.
> The turbine drives an electrical generator.
> The water, which is now cooler, is pumped back into the ground, not far from where it was pumped out.
Five main advantages
1. Geothermal electricity is almost constant -- all day and night, every single day, 365 days a year,
irrespective of the weather.
2. Many millions of dollars that presently have to be sent overseas each year to pay for fuel oil are saved.
3. The energy supply is secure.
4. Only very small amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted; geothermal is very “environmentally friendly”.
5. Geothermal electricity generation is mature technology and very reliable. In 21 countries world-wide, it
supplies electricity to about 60 million people.
Significance of other forms of renewable energy
The Monasavu Dam is the most important element in the Fiji
Government's strategy to supply all the nation's electrical energy
through renewable resources. It usually satisfies about half of national
demand. The Fiji Electricity Authority has taken several other renewable
energy initiatives in recent years, which will further increase the
already impressively high proportion of renewable energy in the Fiji
Electricity Authority's generation profile.
Hydro can supply base load electricity -- large amounts of
electricity at a constant output -- all day and night, every
single day, 365 days a year. Other than geothermal, it is the only
renewable energy technology that has that hugely important capability.
More about base load ...
The one serious limitation of hydro is that during
drought, there may not be enough water to drive the electricity
generators throughout the whole year. Diesel fuel then has to be
purchased to generate electricity to make up the shortfall. Ten years
ago, the cost of Fiji's fuel imports (including fuel required to produce
electricity) was less than 20% of the nation's domestic export earnings.
In 2008 it was more than 80%.
Wind generators typically operate no more than 25 per cent
of the time. Although they are useful to supplement Fiji's electricity
generating capacity and to reduce spending on diesel fuel, wind
generators cannot produce base load electricity. Solar power has
drawbacks similar to those of wind turbines and cannot produce base load
Geothermal is able to meet high demand for base load
electricity at an almost constant output, regardless of climatic
conditions. That makes it unique among renewable technologies.
If Fiji's geothermal resources are large enough to supply
low-cost electricity on a major industrial scale, the nation can be
internationally competitive in attracting industries that would not
otherwise be possible.
The reason geothermal hasn’t come to Fiji already
Before the proponents of a
geothermal power project can be at all confident that drilling for hot
water may be successful, complex and expensive geological studies are
The first stages of a geothermal
project are extremely expensive and have a high risk of commercial
failure: drilling for geothermal hot water can cost about FJ$19 million
(US$11 million) per
hole and drill holes may not strike sufficient hot water to generate
These costs and risks are too high for governments to
undertake this work. However, some non-government investors are prepared
to bear the high risk of financing it. Although they may lose all their
investment, if drilling is successful the financial return from a large
geothermal power station is good.
Geothermal’s environmental profile
Geothermal power plants are very environmentally friendly.
They emit very small amounts of "greenhouse gases" -- 1/6000 the
emissions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant, emitted
from conventional power stations. If geothermal replaced Fiji's present
diesel-powered electricity generators, about 300,000 tonnes of
greenhouse gases and toxic emissions less would be
released into the atmosphere every year.
Other emissions are very low, or zero.
When geothermal water is pumped back into the earth, the
underground geothermal reservoir retains the same amount of water.
Therefore, the power station never runs out of water and any other
places that use hot water (such as hot springs resorts and cooking
places) continue to receive exactly the same quantity as they always
have. In a binary geothermal system, only heat is
permanently removed, not water.
The first project: Savu Savu
Geothermal Electric Limited has
been granted a licence to drill for geothermal resources at Savu Savu,
Fiji's most promising geothermal site. If the drilling program is
successful, a small electricity generating station will be built.
Further holes will then be drilled. If they yield water of sufficient
temperature and flow, a larger plant will be installed, allowing more
electricity to be generated.
Although output from Savu Savu may be as little as only
double what local demand is now, the target is between 4 and 8 times the
nation's present total continuous demand. The unknown temperature and
volumes of hot water and steam that may be found thousands of feet below
the surface explain the large difference between these upper and lower
The second project: Labasa-Tabia
Again subject to successful
drilling, Geothermal Electric Limited plans to develop the geothermal
resources of the Labasa-Tabia region. Some of the output is planned to
provide power for nearby industry, including ethanol and bio-diesel
fuels, and mining projects.
More electricity -- to power industry and reduce cost
Geothermal Electric Limited's
projects at Savu Savu and Labasa-Tabia, and similar projects that may be
built on Viti Levu, will reduce the nation's reliance on diesel fuel. If
geothermal supplies electricity to the present market only, it could
supply 50% of total electricity on Viti Levu and 100% on Vanua Levu.
The really exciting potential, however, lies in further
directions -- geothermal's ability to stimulate the establishment of
large-scale industries by supplying large amounts of continuous
power all day, every day. If that occurs, it will bring unprecedented
wealth to Fiji and transform the nation's economy.
If large industries are supplied, it should then be
possible to lower the cost of electricity for household, commercial and
non-industrial users. This will make it easier for businesses to operate
and cheaper for families to run electrical appliances and lighting.
About Geothermal Electric Limited
Geothermal Electric Limited is a public limited company
incorporated in Suva. It is dedicated to exploring and developing Fiji's
most promising geothermal resources at low cost, providing good returns
on investment to the company's shareholders, making an effective
contribution to developing Fiji's economy, and helping to fight climate
change. Until recently, as a private limited company, Geothermal
Electric Limited was a wholly owned subsidiary of
Asia Pacific Resources Limited, which is a world leader in low-cost mining
development, enabling it to profitably develop mineral deposits that are
normally considered to be too small to be developed by companies with a
conventional high-cost structure. Geothermal Electric Limited is
following similar practices. This includes having very substantial
specialist capabilities in relevant fields within the company.
Geothermal will drive Fiji’s future prosperity
The mining and minerals processing industry has huge
potential to build wealth in Fiji. It spends large amounts of money in
local economies, stimulates wide-ranging support industries and
generates opportunities for highly skilled employment. But the lack of
reliable, moderately priced energy is currently a huge barrier to
developing this industry in Fiji and much of the Pacific.
If sufficient geothermal resources can be discovered soon
to provide the electricity required by mining and minerals processing,
Fiji can become a highly competitive location for this industry --
competitive enough to attract industries despite the long distance, much
as Iceland is using its geothermal resources to process minerals from as
far away as South America.
Geothermal energy will not therefore "simply produce more
electricity" to reduce our reliance on imported fuel -- it will go much
further than that. It will be the key to Fiji's ability to transform its
economy and greatly increase the wealth of its people.
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