Western Australia Reignites Geothermal Energy Exploration

By Daniel Khmelev
Daniel Khmelev
Daniel Khmelev
Daniel Khmelev is an Australian reporter based in Perth covering energy, tech, and politics. He holds bachelor's degrees in math, physics, and computer science. Contact him at daniel.khmelev@epochtimes.com.au.
January 24, 2022 Updated: January 24, 2022

Western Australia (WA) will allow companies to probe for potential geothermal hotspots as the state revitalises Australia’s dormant geothermal energy ambitions.

The new acreage release allows applicants to bid for a total of 21 onshore exploration zones across the state, covering a combined area of nearly 82,000 square kilometres—slightly smaller than the island of Ireland.

The proximity of several of these would have the potential to supply power to WA’s capital, Perth, by harnessing the hot temperatures found deep under the earth’s surface.

WA Acting Mines and Petroleum Minister Rita Saffioti explained that the renewable power source could also help power remote operations whilst producing no emissions.

“Geothermal energy is clean and renewable, so it can play an important role in securing WA’s domestic energy supply and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Saffioti said.

Epoch Times Photo
Geothermal acreage release for 2022 in Perth. (State of Western Australia)

“Geothermal energy produced from these areas could power regional centres, ports and infrastructure, as well as mining and industrial operations.

Conventional steam turbines used in geothermal power stations around the world commonly lie near volcanic or other high-temperature areas that exceed 350 degrees celsius. In Australia, these temperatures are found deeper than 5,000 kilometres (3106 miles), at which point drilling becomes uneconomical.

Instead, special turbines that are able to harness temperatures as low as 90 degrees celsius can be used, though these are less than half as efficient in converting heat to electricity.

However, despite decades of analysis still pointing to significant potential for the use of geothermal energy throughout Australia, presently, no commercial production of geothermal exists in the country.

Curtin University Professor of Sustainability Peter Newman—currently the lead author for transport on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and who became a member of Infrastructure Australia in 2008—told The Epoch Times that geothermal had long been a viable option for Australia.

“I was on the board of Infrastructure Australia for four years, and we did a big survey of all the energy sources across Australia, and you couldn’t help but be impressed by the amount of geothermal potential there was—along with wave power, wind power, and solar power,” Newman said.

Epoch Times Photo
Sheep graze in front of wind turbines in Lake George on the outskirts of Canberra, Australia, on Sep. 1, 2020. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)

According to Geoscience Australia, a number of factors contributed to the lack of adoption of the technology in Australia, including cost blowouts for geothermal projects in other parts of the world.

Concerns had also grown following operations at a geothermal project in Switzerland which resulted in a man-made magnitude 3.4 earthquake.

But Newman pointed out that one of the primary factors that led to geothermal being swept under the rug had been the advent of other, more proven renewable technologies.

“The reality is that solar power has won,” Newman said.

“It’s just an extraordinary period of time now that we’re entering where the competition is not really between renewables and fossil fuels—it’s between solar and everything else.”

Solar power has continued to drop in price as technology develops, and according to a report (pdf) by the United States Energy Information Administration, it is the cheapest form of power long-term.

Solar adoption has also accelerated in Australia, now covering more than one in four homes and non-residential buildings.

Daniel Khmelev is an Australian reporter based in Perth covering energy, tech, and politics. He holds bachelor's degrees in math, physics, and computer science. Contact him at daniel.khmelev@epochtimes.com.au.