Indonesia laying the legal groundwork to become geothermal superpower
Zulkifli Hasan, forestry minister of Indonesia, said the move will allow the country to exploit an untapped resource of renewable energy. The archipelago of 234 million people and more than 200 volcanoes is estimated to possess around 40 percent of the world's geothermal energy potential, or around 28,000 megawatts (MW).
"Around 80 percent of our geothermal reserves are located in conserved forests," said Zulkifli. "We're now waiting for the completion of a presidential decree on underground mining activities, because geothermal mining is included in that mining type. The presidential decree has been completed, but still has to wait for President Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's signature."
Last year the Indonesian president said his intention was for the country to become the world's latest user of geothermal energy. "We envision that by 2025, about five percent of our national energy needs will be met through the use of geothermal energy," he told a conference in Bali.
The United States is currently the world leader in thermal energy with close to 4000-MW of installed capacity and second placed Philippines utilizes approximately 2000-MW while Indonesia, in third place, currently uses only 1100-MW - just four percent of its potential. Within five years, however, the country aims to add 4000 MW to its geothermal capacity, and by 2025 it the goal is to generate a total of 9000 MW from underground heat sources including volcanoes.
Based on Indonesia's current Forestry Law, the only human intervention allowed in conservation forests is for education or research. The government has insisted that modifying the law to allow the drilling of geothermal wells in protected areas is acceptable because it will not cause widespread deforestation.
"Geothermal wells will not damage the environment because they are underground operations. Therefore, you do not cut down the forest," Zulkifli told the Jakarta Globe last year.
In a speech to the Climate Project Asia-Pacific Summit in Jakarta last week Nobel laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore made much of Indonesia's potential to go from being one of the world's largest green house gas emitters to a leader in renewable energy use.
"Scientists and engineers are now saying confidently that certain forms of enhanced geothermal electricity production may represent one of the largest resources of carbon-free electricity available in the world today," he said. "And Indonesia could be a superpower of geothermal electricity. With the new regional super grids that are being proposed on every continent, it can be a significant advance for Indonesia's economy."
Gore said Indonesia had a great opportunity to take a sustainable approach that preserves its peat forests, avoids emissions from the destruction and earn income that improves the economy.