Indonesia Aims To Become The World Leader In Volcanically Generated Electricity

Bromo National Park, on the Indonesian island of Java, is covered in active volcanoes. Manamana/Shutterstock

Indonesia, a collection of islands home to around 127 active volcanoes, is about to tap into its fiery underbelly.

This complex country, which sits atop one tectonic plate sliding beneath another, already uses a chunk of the upwelling magmatic heat to generate electricity. However, according to a report by AFP, the government is pushing to expand its geothermal energy sector by 500 percent by 2025.

If it is successful, it would be producing 7,200 megawatts of geothermal electricity, making it the world’s number one producer of this almost entirely clean energy source. Let's look at why this initiative is so significant.

Iceland immediately comes to mind here. This small, moderately wealthy nation of 323,000 individuals sits above a superheated plume of partly molten mantle material. Consequently, 13 percent of Iceland’s electricity is generated by volcanic activity.

Both Iceland and Indonesia are fortunate – and sometimes unlucky enough – to have such powerful magmatic forces operating beneath the ground, and the latter would be wise to take advantage of this effectively endless natural supply of energy. The main difference between both examples, though, is population.

Indonesia is home to around 250 million people, an enormous chunk of the world population. Right now, 88 percent of its electricity capacity comes from fossil fuels, which makes it a huge emitter of greenhouse gases. In terms of individual countries, it has the 7th largest carbon footprint, emitting 641 million tonnes (707 million tons) of carbon dioxide per year.

According to AFP, it is estimated that Indonesia has about 40 percent of the world’s geothermal energy reserves. Already, the government has tapped into this source to make the archipelagic nation the planet’s 3rd most prolific producer of electricity through geothermal sources. However, this currently powers no more than 0.6 percent of Indonesian households.

Success in this new initiative would not just mean that hundreds of millions of people would be connected to the grid, but that the densely populated nation’s carbon footprint could drop off drastically over the next few decades. It would be a major win for both environmental protection and humanity as a whole.

A small-scale geothermal plant in West Java. mosista/Shutterstock

Sadly, there are many challenges and obstacles along the way to overcome. Unlike other forms of renewable electricity generation, the price of building a geothermal plant is still relatively expensive compared to fossil fuel equivalents.

Additionally, the huge and rapidly increasing population – along with heavy handed bureaucracy and an underdeveloped electrical grid that is far from widespread – means that getting this new geothermal initiative off the ground may be somewhat difficult.

Nevertheless, the global trend towards renewable power seems inexorable as of late. Between 1960 and 2013, renewable energy jumped from powering 2.7 of the world to 8.6 percent. Meanwhile, fossil fuel consumption has dropped from 94 to 81 percent.

The current determination of both the US and China – by far the world’s two largest carbon emitters – to sign up to clean energy is most welcome. Along with their ratification of the Paris agreement, this behavior increases the likelihood of other sizable nations around the world to ditch their reliance on fossil fuels. Meanwhile, smaller nations like Costa Rica are already able to run on renewable energy sources for several consecutive months, setting a wonderful example to others.

Climate change is a threat that will affect everything and everyone, and if a country can do something about it, it needs to act. Indonesia is unique with regards to its geothermal reserves. Considering 1,500 of its islands could be underwater by 2050, it would be a fool not to take action.

Bali is threatened by sea level rise. Farizun Amrod Saad/Shutterstock

[H/T: AFP via France 24]

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