Tiny tur­bine a test­bed for hot rock

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Clean Energy - Keith Orchi­son

ATINY 1MW power tur­bine be­ing de­liv­ered by sea to Aus­tralia this month may be the har­bin­ger of a ma­jor, long- term shift in de­car­bon­is­ing baseload elec­tric­ity de­liv­ery. The lit­tle tur­bine is be­ing brought in by Geo­dy­nam­ics to power its Cooper Basin op­er­a­tions and the nearby re­mote cen­tral Aus­tralian vil­lage of In­nam­incka with geo­ther­mal en­ergy.

Once the tur­bine is com­mis­sioned late this year, jokes Geo­dy­nam­ics chief ex­ec­u­tive Gerry Grove- White, the In­nam­incka pub will be able to boast it uses the world’s hottest non- vol­canic rocks to serve the cold­est beer.

The en­ergy from the tur­bine will be tap­ping 250C heat in rocks 4km be­low the red desert sands us­ing five mil­lion year- old wa­ter trapped in deep aquifers. The wa­ter will not be ex­tracted — it will be brought up through one deep well and put back down through an­other. The wells are crit­i­cal to Geo­dy­nam­ics’ plans to pro­vide green­house gas emis­sions- free elec­tric­ity to the east­ern Aus­tralian power mar­ket.

Their depth and the hard­ness of the rock through which they pass cre­ated sub­stan­tial prob­lems for the com­pany when its sec­ond well had to be aban­doned, un­fin­ished, a year ago, block­ing ac­cess to the deep wa­ter reser­voir be­fore im­por­tant pump­ing tests could be un­der­taken. The com­pany’s share price fell, its foun­da­tion man­ag­ing di­rec­tor left and the op­por­tu­nity to ob­tain $ 75 mil­lion in project sup­port from the Howard Gov­ern­ment was lost. The Geo­dy­nam­ics board re­sponded by spend­ing $ 32 mil­lion to ac­quire Aus­tralia’s most ad­vanced land­based drilling rig from the US, and re­launched its de­vel­op­ment pro­gram.

This year to date the news for Geo­dy­nam­ics has been in­creas­ingly good. Ha­banero 3 well has been com­pleted to a depth be­low 4200 me­tres, share­holder Ori­gin En­ergy has pumped in $ 105.6 mil­lion through a farm- in deal in the com­pany’s South Aus­tralian li­cence area, and plans are pro­gress­ing to build a 50MW demon­stra­tion plant ( and an­other nine 50MW mod­ules).

Economists Brian Fisher and Anna Maty­sek of Con­cept Eco­nomics, in anal­y­sis for the Aus­tralian Pe­tro­leum Pro­duc­tion & Ex­plo­ration As­so­ci­a­tion of the im­pact of the Rudd Gov­ern­ment’s re­new­able en­ergy tar­get pol­icy plus emis­sions trad­ing, have fore­cast that the Cooper Basin de­vel­op­ment could be de­liv­er­ing nearly 3000 gi­gawatt hours a year to the mar­ket by 2020 — a frac­tion of the pro­jected 74,000 GWh con­tri­bu­tion from re­new­able en­ergy but a large stride on a long road for Geo­dy­nam­ics.

Grove- White, who be­came chief ex­ec­u­tive of Geo­dy­nam­ics last Au­gust, is up­beat about the longer term prospects: he told a Com­mit­tee for the Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment of Aus­tralia fo­rum in Syd­ney last month that the com­pany aims to have more than 1000MW of ca­pac­ity in op­er­a­tion at the Cooper Basin site by 2020.

This will in­volve one of Aus­tralia’s largest on­shore deep drilling pro­grams. GroveWhite says the ini­tial com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment of 500MW will re­quire use of six drilling rigs to sink 90 wells by 2016.

Look­ing fur­ther ahead, he is talk­ing of the area’s heat min­ing be­ing able to pro­vide be­tween 5000 and 10,000MW baseload ca­pac­ity for the east­ern States’ na­tional elec­tric­ity mar­ket, which pro­vides more than 85 per cent of Aus­tralia’s power.

The ex­ist­ing baseload ca­pac­ity for the NEM stands at 22,000MW, most of it fu­elled by car­bon diox­ide- heavy coal tur­bines.

The Cooper Basin geo­ther­mal op­er­a­tion will have no green­house gas emis­sions at all.

By com­par­i­son, a 500MW con­ven­tional mod­ern coal plant emits a to­tal of about 15 mil­lion tonnes of car­bon diox­ide over a decade’s op­er­a­tions.

It is es­ti­mated that com­pa­nies pur­su­ing hot dry rock- based en­ergy have now com­mit­ted in li­cence ar­range­ments with state gov­ern­ments to spend­ing $ 800 mil­lion on the ini­tial steps — a rise of about $ 230 mil­lion over 12- 18 months. The writer has pro­vided ad­vi­sory ser­vices to Geo­dy­nam­ics Lim­ited

Up­beat: Gerry Grove- White

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