The ongoing climate crisis has highlighted the need for renewable, sustainable energy sources as global energy needs continue to rise. One such source, buried beneath the Earth’s surface, is geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is making up a growing share of the global energy mix, particularly in countries with high geothermal potential. For instance, in Turkey, currently the fourth-largest geothermal energy producer globally, geothermal energy makes up 1.58% of total power capacity. Its installed geothermal capacity stands at 820.86 MW[i]. In the USA, authorities have been drawing energy from The Geysers in California, north of San Francisco, since establishing a geothermal field in the area in 1960. The world’s largest geothermal field, The Geysers boasts a total installed capacity of around 800 MW, powering some 900,000 households[ii].

One of the main advantages of geothermal energy is its ability to supplement other renewables such as solar and wind, which are intermittent in nature. By serving as a geographical diversifier and a natural energy storage solution, geothermal energy substantially reduces the land needed for power production. When combined with solar and wind power, it can bolster the stability of the energy grid and mitigate against potential damage from challenging local weather conditions.


MENA seeks to boost geothermal capacity, but challenges emerge

While the MENA region is typically associated with its hydrocarbon reserves, it harbours significant geothermal potential that is estimated at 15,000–20,000 MW[i]. As a clean energy alternative, geothermal power is an opportunity for MENA countries to diversify energy portfolios while fortifying energy security. It can also serve as a linchpin in the transition to low-carbon economies.

The region has yet to tap into its potential, with installed capacity across the region currently at 953 MW[ii], although countries including Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are making some progress. Iran has rich geothermal potential, particularly in its northern provinces, and has planned for exploration in 18 regions[iii]. Iraq is executing three geothermal energy projects in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Duhok in collaboration with the EU and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Jordan is exploring how to harness geothermal energy derived from nearby tectonic plate borders. In Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) and the Saudi Ministry of Energy are exploring geothermal energy sources and launching an innovation programme for the energy system. The Saudi initiative will involve researching potential resources, launching an innovation programme for technological advancements, building local expertise, creating a supportive policy framework, and implementing pilot projects to demonstrate the viability of geothermal applications[iv].

Despite making some progress, the region’s path to large-scale adoption is long. There are many obstacles, and these include technical issues resulting from the uneven regional distribution of geothermal resources; high initial investment requirements for drilling and exploration; competition from less expensive forms of renewable energy such as solar and wind power; and environmental concerns including groundwater contamination and induced seismicity. Furthermore, the sector is held back by a lack of regional awareness, expertise, and practical experience.

Overcoming these challenges requires a comprehensive approach involving the use of advanced technologies, progressive policies, and strategic regional collaborations. The adoption of innovative financing models and risk-mitigation measures, such as public-private partnerships, green bonds, and loan guarantees, can help mitigate financial barriers. The sector’s development would also benefit from a robust legal and regulatory framework addressing resource ownership, royalties, and surface rights while ensuring adherence to safety and environmental standards. Fostering research and development in geothermal technologies through funding initiatives and partnerships can spur advancements and reduce costs over time.

The MENA region is well-positioned to overcome these challenges as global interest in renewable and geothermal energy grows. International collaborations can help contribute to advancing geothermal energy development and assisting countries in their transition to a sustainable and diversified energy mix. Geothermal energy holds promise as a potential major source of energy in the MENA region. 


Reference:

[i] Dashti, A. and Gholami Korzani, M., 2021. Study of geothermal energy potential as a green source of energy with a look at energy consumption in Iran. Geothermal Energy, 9(1), p.28.

[ii] Dobson, P., Dwivedi, D., Millstein, D., Krishnaswamy, N., Garcia, J. and Kiran, M., 2020. Analysis of curtailment at The Geysers geothermal field, California. Geothermics, 87, p.101871. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0375650520300018

[i] Amoatey, P., Chen, M., Al-Maktoumi, A., Izady, A. and Baawain, M.S., 2021. A review of geothermal energy status and potentials in Middle-East countries. Arabian Journal of Geosciences, 14, pp.1-19. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12517-021-06648-9. Also see, Lebbihiat, N., Atia, A., Arıcı, M. and Meneceur, N., 2021. Geothermal energy use in Algeria: A review on the current status compared to the worldwide, utilization opportunities and countermeasures. Journal of Cleaner Production, 302, p.126950. available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652621011690.

[ii] Amoatey, Chen, Al-Maktoumi, Izady, and Baawain “A review of geothermal”; Lebbihiat, Atia, Arici,and Meneceur “Geothermal energy use in Algeria”.

[iii] Dashti, A. and Gholami Korzani, M., 2021. Study of geothermal energy potential as a green source of energy with a look at energy consumption in Iran. Geothermal Energy, 9(1), p.28.

[iv] Saudi Arabia to undertake exploration of geothermal energy sources, (2023). Available at: https://www.zawya.com/en/projects/utilities/saudi-arabia-to-undertake-exploration-of-geothermal-energy-sources-dttvlgru