GEOTHERMAL emissions are now higher than COAL in the electricity sector

Posted on September 10, 2016

Is Geothermal really renewable?
Geothermal emissions are now higher than coal in the electricity sector

New Zealand Geothermal Electricity now emits 724,000,000 kilograms CO2e per anum ….

….. that’s 89,000,000 kilograms more than electricity generated by coal from Huntly.

160528 coal vs geothermal4

First the bad news

We’ve had geothermal in New Zealand for over 60 years and over that time we’ve been told as a nation that it’s clean and renewable.

But, Geothermal emissions are now higher than coal in the electricity sector. In fact emissions from Geothermal electricity have increased 180% over the last 10 years and is now emitting 724,000,000 kilograms of greenhouse gas per year.

That’s the equivalent to220,000 car emissions.

In the 2016 Ministry for the Environment Emissions Report it states:
“_Emissions from geothermal have increased greatly in recent years. These increases are driven by an increase in geothermal emissions related to electricity generation…._”

160907 Renewable Energy emission ratings

Now the good news

Wind, Hydro and Solar have much lower emissions

As you would expect,Wind, Hydro and Solarhave no direct emissions from operation, so the only emissions to consider are from their construction or installation.

Take Wind Farming for example, if you include all lifetime emissions, wind emits around 7 grams / CO2e / kWh (grams CO2e) over its lifetime. This takes into account the concrete, steel and shipping required to get a wind farm established plus ongoing maintenance.

Remember that figure,7 grams.

Wind Turbine

So how does Wind compare with Geothermal?

Geothermal emissions vary greatly between sites, from 30 grams (closed cycle) up to over597 grams(open cycle), that’s more than a gas plant.

On average throughout New Zealand Geothermal emits_99 grams_CO2e, 14 times more emissions than Wind, and 3 times more than Solar.

That means if the average Kiwi household electricity was sourced purely from Geothermal generated electricity, they would be emitting790 kilograms of CO2eper annum. That’s a lot of CO2e and doesn’t sound very renewable.

Has Geothermal lowered emissions from Coal and Gas?

Yes and no.Gasemits 400 (over 12 – 15 years) andcoal900 grams CO2e (hopefully for not much longer), but ……

Geothermal plants are designed to operate for 30 – 40 years. So at the current rate of NZ Geothermal emissions that means we’ve locked in21,000,000,000 kilograms of geothermal CO2eover the next 30 -50 years. That’s the equivalent emissions of driving a Holden Commodore around the globe 2.7 million times, not flash.

When you consider Wind Farming, Hydro and Solar generation offer much cleaner alternatives to Geothermal, over time, one would expect open cycle geothermal will eventually be priced out of the market due to carbon tax making it too expensive.

Further, Wind is now already one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation to operate, so over the long term will lower energy costs for Kiwis ….. and is not exposed to carbon tax.

Solar is also becoming more competitive and over time most houses in New Zealand will be blessed with their own solar panels.

Solar Panels

Simply put, replacing Coal and Gas with Geothermal is replacing one thermal source with another.

Combined with our abundance of Hydro and a rapidly rising fleet of electric vehicles that can store massive amounts of energy, NZ is in a great position to be a truly 100% renewable Nation.

So, the next time someone tries telling you our electricity is 80% renewable, tell them it’s actually**65% from Wind, Hydro and Solar**, the rest is still dirty thermal.

Al Yates is a Director of Ecotricity
Ecotricity is NZ’s only 100% carboNZero Certified Electricity sourced from Wind, Hydro and Solar

100% Kiwi Owned and 49% Community Owned

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