MRA’s Recent Study on Geothermal Energy and its Potential

by Marcelle P. Villegas - July 15, 2021

Image: Lihir geothermal model (Source: Newcrest Mining Limited [1]

A recent study by Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) explores the potential of geothermal energy as a possible source of sustainable energy for Papua New Guinea.

The Geological Survey Division, Mineral Resources Authority published “Geothermal Energy Resources of Papua New Guinea: Country Update” -- a study done by Maxine M. Lahan, Gener Villafuerte and Lynell Stevens. This study points out the geothermal energy is a good prospect as a potential source of energy in PNG. According to the researchers, “This paper aims to provide an overview of the preliminary geothermal studies initiated and conducted by the Mineral Resources Authority’s Geological Survey Division since 2009 including recent government policy initiatives.” [1]

Like any energy project, each country has its set of hurdles and challenges. For geothermal energy in Papua New Guinea, the study mentioned that the development of geothermal energy here is somehow hindered by lack of policy and further exploratory work. The study aims to identify the pervading problems and the possible solutions for the successful development of geothermal energy utilisation.

Alexander Richter from the Think Geoenergy website wrote on his article, ““Lack of policy and additional exploratory work required hampers potential geothermal investments in Papua New Guinea.” [2]

He notes that this study released by the Mineral Resources Authority last 23 February 2021 “aims to bring the topic of geothermal energy back on the table in the country.” [2]

The idea of developing geothermal energy is not a new concept. There was early historical research on potential geothermal resources that were done in the 1960s until the 1970s, and some recent ones by MRA in 2009 until 2016.

The study reported that currently, there are 55 known, identified and recorded geothermal sites. However, only seven regions have been mapped and sampled. Where are they located? “The prospects identified are Talasea along the Willaumez Peninsula on New Britain Island, Kasiloli prospect at the active volcano of Pago on New Britain Island, the Silanga propsect also at the Pago Volcano on New Britain Island. Other prospects are Deidei on Fergusson Island, part of the D’Entrecasteaux Islands in Milne Bay Province, Rabaul at the active Tavurvur volcano and some other smaller prospects.” [2]

As mentioned earlier, the study mentioned that geothermal energy has great potential in providing alternative energy source for the country. Lihir Island has an operating geothermal power plant with notable high-temperature and permeability options. [2]

Creating the power plant was done in three stages / phases that started with a 6 MW backpressure plant in 2001. This was proceeded by a 30 MW expansion with a single flash plant in 2005. Finally in 2007, it had an additional 20 MW-Single Flash plant.

There are, however, only 9 MW of the 30 MW that is operating. And only 2 MW of the 20 MW plant are operating as well. This report was given by the Papua New Guinea country update for the World Geothermal Congress 2020+1 in Reykjavik, Iceland last April 2021.

Moreover, Richter noted in his article that there was increased interest in the geothermal energy in 2016, but “things have been pretty much idle since then.”

He wrote, “In 2016 and again in 2020, the lack of policy for geothermal development was described as a key hurdle for the utilization of geothermal in PNG. While a new regulatory and supervision scheme seems to be set up for renewable energy development in PNG, there are not concrete plans for a boost for geothermal energy development. To develop the geothermal resources of PNG, “more exploratory work is required to collect additional information on the prospects already identified by MRA and others.”

Figure 1: Location of PNG and Lihir Geothermal Power Plant (red polygon). [1]

Now, let us look deeper into the study. The initial discussion first introduced the geological features of Papua New Guinea.

“Papua New Guinea is characterized by quaternary volcanic islands with potentially low to high-temperature geothermal resources that are yet to be systematically investigated for development and utilization,” according the study.

A 50MW geothermal power plant on Lihir Island was installed. This is owned and operated by Newcrest Mining Limited within its gold mining lease.

It was observed that the research and development of geothermal energy and other renewable energy sources has been hindered by lack of political will and support for the development of policies and legal frameworks and finance that will accelerate the development of geothermal power plants. This goes the same for the development of other renewable energy resources. [1]

The study enumerates that PNG has abundant untapped renewable energy resources like hydro, geothermal, biomass, solar, wind, and tidal wave. However, due to the country’s cultural diversity, land tenure system, rugged terrain and largely rural popular, developing these sources of renewable energy is difficult and challenging.  

At the moment, hydro is the primary source of energy and provides just half of 797MW total electricity generation capacity. One-third of energy comes from diesel generators. Other energy sources like gas, geothermal and biogas generation “represent most of the balance with the bulk of this energy used for mining.” [1]

Here are more key points from the study:

  • Diesel is dominant in off-grid applications.
  • The total electricity output in 2015 was 4324 GWh, comprising hydro-electric (23%), petroleum products (56%), natural gas (11%), and geothermal (10%) (APEC Energy Outlook, 2019).
  • The total installed capacity estimates for 2016 was 797MW sourced from hydropower (432 MW), thermal (223), gas (85MW), geothermal (50MW) and biogas (7MW) according to the APEC Energy Outlook (2019).
  • The gross production from the geothermal power plant on Lihir Island is currently 96 GWh/yr from 11 MWe generation capacity.
  • About half of the country’s total installed capacity is from the private sector mainly for the mining sector.
  • The rest serves businesses and about 13% of the total population that live in Port Moresby and other urban centers in the country.
  • The majority rural-based citizens (87%) including urban settlements do not have access to electricity and continue to rely on traditional wood burning for cooking.
  • Portable off-grid solar energy is reaching many rural homes and urban settlements these days for lighting and phone charging and is having positive impacts on peoples’ lives (APEC Energy Outlook, 2019).
Figure 2: Total installed electricity capacity: 797 MW (source: APEC Energy Outlook, 2019)[1]

More on the geological background of PNG, it has a unique geology with rich amounts of mineral resources and geothermal potential. The study notes that this is because PNG is located on the “Pacific Ring of Fire”. PNG is located on an active tectonic region or a collision zone between the ff. plates:

  • north-ward moving Indo-Australian plate
  • west-northwest moving Pacific plate
  • eastward moving Caroline plate.

Lihir Mine and the geothermal steam field. The power plant is located at the bottom left corner of the photograph where the built up infrastructure area. [1]

Lihir geothermal model (Source: Newcrest Mining Limited [1]

“The geothermal resource policy is yet to be passed in Parliament; however, the government has recently approved the National Energy Policy (2017-2027) which lays out the plan for the establishment of the new National Energy Authority and Energy Regulatory Commission which will be mandated to administer and regulate the energy industry. This policy provides for the development of various policies for geothermal and other renewable energy sources to develop sustainable renewable energy.” [1]

Figure 3: Institutional and regulatory arrangement for the energy sector in PNG. The Electricity Management Committee comprised of relevant government departments makes decision for the renewable energy development (source: DPE). [1]

Looking at the future development and installation, what can we expect in the future? The study reveals that currently there is no plan for new geothermal power plant installations in the next 5 to 10 years. The study suggests that more exploratory work is required at this stage to collect more information on the prospects identified by MRA and others. [1]

However, there is still hope in the future, perhaps with the help of the National Energy Policy 2017-2027. “The recent policy initiative through the National Energy Policy 2017 – 2027 is a positive step towards the development of geothermal and other renewables as the new proposed National Energy Authority develops the policy and regulatory frameworks that would encourage geothermal exploration in the country and hopefully development.” [1]

-----

Reference

[1] Lahan, Maxine M., Villafuerte, Gener, Stevens, Lynell. (April - Oct. 2021). Proceedings World Geothermal Congress 2020. "Geothermal Energy Resources of Papua New Guinea: Country Update". Retrieved from - https://pangea.stanford.edu/ERE/db/WGC/papers/WGC/2020/01028.pdf

[2] Richter, Alexander (24 Feb. 2021). Think Geoenergy Website. "Bringing geothermal back into the energy discussion in Papua New Guinea". Retrieved from - https://www.thinkgeoenergy.com/bringing-geothermal-back-into-the-energy-discussion-in-papua-new-guinea/

Photo credits/charts:

Courtesy of Lahan, Maxine M., Villafuerte, Gener, Stevens, Lynell. (April - Oct. 2021). Proceedings World Geothermal Congress 2020. "Geothermal Energy Resources of Papua New Guinea: Country Update". Retrieved from - https://pangea.stanford.edu/ERE/db/WGC/papers/WGC/2020/01028.pdf



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PNG Under Explored in Geothermal Energy

Photo Credit: Shuttershock According to William Duma, Minister of Public Enterprises and State Investment, Papua New Guinea is under-explored in terms of geothermal energy development. Duma was speaking at the signing of a geothermal deed of agreement between the state and Fortescue Future Industries (FFI), an Australian company. “Comparatively, Papua New Guinea is under-explored,” he said. “If a geothermal location is to be determined to be viable for commercialisation, then, of course, Fortescue will apply for all the necessary licenses required for each province in accordance with the applicable legislation which the company is aware of.” According to Duma, Fortescue Future Industries has discovered geothermal resources in numerous places around the country, with the potential to generate up to 10 gigawatts of power.  West New Britain, he said, had a caldera (Mt Talawe) in Talasea; Milne Bay, with areas of interest on Fergusson, Goodenough, and Normanby islands; Northern, with Mt Lamington; Madang, with resources on Karkar, Long, and Manam islands; East Sepik, with the islands of Bam, Blup Blup, and Kairiru; and Morobe, with parts of Bulolo and Wau, the McAdam National Park and the islands of Siassi and Umboi. Kumul Consolidated Holdings (KCHL) signed the agreement with FFI on behalf of the State. According to KCHL managing director Isikeli Taureka, the deal with Fortescue was to look at areas of interest in the country. Fortescue would next go out and perform more research to determine the capability of the geothermal sites that had been found, he added. Following the confirmation of viable sites, Taureka said the developer and the state would sign a project agreement outlining what each party would undertake to develop the resource and the advantages to stakeholders. He said that geothermal locations might be used to generate electricity, which would lead to more development such as roads and other infrastructure. “Our side is to make sure that all the Government laws and permits are complied with.”   Reference: Mauludu, Shirley. The National (12 August 2021). “Focus on geothermal energy”.

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Marcelle P. Villegas - October 04, 2021

Mapping out the potentials for geothermal energy

Volcanic eruption in Tavurvur volcano, Rabaul, New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea [Photo credit: Eric Lafforgue - www.ericlafforgue.com] "PNG through Mineral Resource Authority (MRA) has now embarked on undertaking geothermal exploration in the country with assistance from the World Bank and the Government of Iceland through training of its staff, as there is a need to diversity in its energy source and increase the energy needs of the country."  (taken from "Geothermal Mapping in PNG" by Barney Orere, Post-Courier.com.ph) From a commentary article by Barney Orere, a list of opportunities and challenges were enumerated from Mining and Exploration Bulletin 2014 by the Mineral Resources Authority. The report details out the geothermal prospects as a potential source of sustainable energy in PNG. Investment opportunities were brought to light as a result of the 2018 APEC Summit where three countries have teamed up with the PNG Government and PNG Power Limited to lighting up 70% of PNG by 2030. One question that surfaced is about Deidel on Fergusson Bay Province. Being a geothermal prospect, will it offer any potential investments to have a positive impact on the country? For this, MRA conducted studies and investigations in the islands of New Guinea. Here are some keypoints: ~ The volcanic island of New Britain is the most prospective region for the development of geothermal energy resources in Papua New Guinea. [1] ~ The northern coastline from the Willaumez Peninsula in Talasea and  West New BritaIn Province of the Gazelle Peninsula in Rabaul has scattered geothermal prospects. New Britain Island has several volcanoes which are dormant. The island has two active volcanoes, namely: Pago in Cape Hoskins are in West New Britain Province (WNBP) and the Rabaul (Tavurvur) volcano in the Gazelle Peninsula in East New Britain Province (ENBP). On the other aspects of the study, the main economic activity in West New Britain Province is based largely on oil palm industry. This is apart from other business activities in its capital, Kimble, plus in smaller towns in Hoskins and Bialla. How many people are dependent on this industry? Based on the population count in NRI Report 2010, Talasea District (in West New Britain Province) is around 128,800. For their livelihood, these people are directly and indirectly dependent on oil palm industry. Where do they get their electricity? Their province has four 400-6-KW diesel generators and two mini-hydro power plants supplied by PNG Power Limited. These are the main sources of electricity for this province. Additionally, their local oil palm plantations have their own energy sources in order to address the issue of insufficient electricity supply. This is their backup energy source as their solution for the frequent power outages. More on the geothermal study in Papua New Guinea, geoscientific information reports that WNBP has a few scattered geothermal prospects. "…previous reconnaissance geochemical survey undertaken in Talasea provided temperatures which ranges from 44°C to 101°C. (Berhane and Mosusu, 1997)" [1]    MRA started conducting geothermal exploration in Papua New Guinea with the support of the World Bank and the Government of Iceland. "The reconnaissance field survey of the various geothermal sites in the Talasea District of WNBP was undertaken in November 2012 as part of the MRA's ongoing geothermal exploration work." [1] Papua New Guinea belongs on the "Ring of Fire" location, thus strong and frequent seismic activities are notable here. Seismicity is rampant at the northeastern margins of the Solomon Sea where the Solomon plate is sub-ducted northward beneath the South Bismarck and the Pacific Plates along the New Britain Trench. The seismicity in this region is known as one of the most intense in the world. [1] More on the geothermal prospects, WNBP has at least seven, five of which were explored during the field work. They are Pangalu-Talasea, Bola and Garbuna (Garu area west of Garbuna) in the Williaumez (Talasea) Peninsula, Silanga and Kasiloli prospects in the Hoskins area. Two prospective locations that were not visited are Galloseulo and Bamus. Pangalu and Talasea are considered as separate prospects. In the report as well, Bola is part of Talasea. In the survey, 36 geothermal surface features were identified. These features are geysers, hot springs mud pools, fumaroles and streaming grounds. These geothermal manifestations were studied to determine the temperature, pH, salinity, conductivity and feature dimensions. These geothermal surface features are located within the oil palm plantations, near settlements and near Kimble and Hoskins towns. In the study, water and gas samples were also gathered for analysis. Samples that were taken include 13 spring samples, seven gas samples and even a meteoric water sample from Laka Dakautaua at the Williaumez Peninsula. The samples were sent for lab analysis at the New Zealand Geothermal Analytical Laboratory (NZGAL), GNS Science, Wairakei. Ten of the samples were taken from Williaumez Peninsula, three from Silanga and one from Kasiloli. WNBP is situated within an active tectonic area, thus geothermal activity is common here. The data below shows why these four locations are good prospects for geothermal spots: Pangalu (Rabili) - 270°C to 295°C Talasea Station - 270°C to 310°C Silanga (Bakama and Sakalu) - 210°C to 290°C Kasiloli (Magouru) - 275°C to 300°C Since geothermal prospects Pangalu and Talasea Station are situated within the shoreline, the water samples may be contaminated with seawater. For this, isotopic analysis is needed to test the water samples accurately. This technique in testing and analysis can determine possible seawater contamination of the sample. The report notes that there is a lack of gas and isotopic data analysis during the study. Thus, it is recommended that isotopic analysis should be part of the study. Another important recommendation is the use of proper equipment in collecting gas samples, in order to come up with accurate geochemistry data. Overall, further investigations are needed in surface geology mapping, geophysics survey and geochemical surveys of hot springs that were not yet sampled. ----- Reference: Orere, Barney (24 Feb. 2021). "Geothermal Mapping in PNG". Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. Retrieved from - https://postcourier.com.pg/geothermal-mapping-in-png-2/ Photo credit: Volcano in PNG – Tavurvur volcano, Rabaul, New Britain Island - https://www.flickr.com/photos/mytripsmypics/8398027130 by Eric Lafforgue Photography - https://www.ericlafforgue.com/articles/About

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