Geothermal energy has great potential in Lebanon

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Article Summary
Recent studies show that Lebanon has a number of locations that are suitable for geothermal power plants.

The UNDP Country Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Demonstration Project for the Recovery of Lebanon (CEDRO), launched in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy and Water, is a national assessment of the geothermal resources in Lebanon within the scope of the development of a sustainable energy strategy and national action plan. The study, which began in May 2012, is conducted by Zurich-based Geowatt AG.

The project, managed by Hassan Harajli, aims at supporting the adoption of green policies in Lebanon's recovery, reconstruction and reform activities by adopting and implementing end-user energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) applications.

For this purpose, CEDRO will cover three areas, namely implementing end-user EE and RE pilot projects in public sector buildings and facilities, providing an enabling environment to transform public sector buildings and other facilities into EE prototypes and developing a sustainable energy strategy and national action plan.

Constant energy source

Unlike other alternative energy technologies, geothermal energy provides a reliable and constant energy source this is not affected by weather changes. Geothermal energy is unlimited, with almost no carbon dioxide emissions. It is a local energy that supports independence from foreign energy providers.

The visual and environmental impact of geothermal power plants is low. Therefore, protecting heritage, nature and the environment is rarely an intractable issue during selection of the site for the construction of a geothermal project.

The study identified two potential areas for the development of geothermal energy pilot projects. Akkar is considered one of the most promising areas, where deep underground water is found at a depth of 1,500 meters with a temperature of up to 130 degrees Celsius [266 F.]. The second area is the Bekaa Valley, where water temperature is estimated at about 80 to 90 degrees Celsius [176 to 194 F.] at a depth of 2,800 meters. If we take into consideration the level of confidence in the available data, it is not unlikely to find water in the Bekaa Valley with temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius [212 F.], which also allows energy generation. Other potential areas were identified in Kawkaba and in the surroundings of the city of Tyre, where thermal anomaly locations have been identified.

With temperatures such as the ones mentioned above, conditions in Lebanon are deemed favorable for low-temperature geothermal technologies using a binary cycle power generation plant.

Side effects

Despite all the previously mentioned benefits, exploiting the geothermal energy reservoir may have side effects. It can trigger seismic activity, a matter which must be addressed seriously. The study predicts minimal seismic activity resulting from this exploitation. This does not negate the need to take stringent risk-reduction procedures and communication plans during the project’s initial stages.

The strong dependence on local geological conditions is the most important element in the development of a thermal power project. As it is the case in oil and gas exploration, geothermal energy involves the risk of not discovering prospective resources, leading to a shortage in the production of the expected energy quantity. Moreover, Lebanon has just started exploring for oil and gas and thus lacks appropriate data. In order to determine the available potential, Lebanon must adopt stringent procedures and will incur relatively high costs.

Thermal measurements

The National Geothermal Resource Assessment aims at estimating the potential of geothermal heat and power generation in Lebanon based on the currently available data and information. It estimates the extent to which geothermal power is able to assist in the objective set by the Lebanese government to meet 12% of its total energy needs from renewable energy sources by 2020 (and beyond).

Geothermal resources were assessed by collecting all geological, hydrogeological, structural and thermal information available on Lebanon, by taking small scale thermal measurements in neglected groundwater wells and by conducting laboratory measurements on rock samples for thermal suitability. Based on the collected information, a geological and geothermal three-dimensional model for Lebanon was developed and used to calculate the underground heat and geothermal potential in Lebanon.

Findings

The findings were presented in the form of maps covering all of the Lebanese territories to be part of the geothermal atlas for Lebanon. This numerical model constitutes a highly important platform for future development of geothermal energy in Lebanon, as it allows updating the assessment of available resources and improving the accuracy of estimates in light of the availability of more data.

The study estimated that the total resources in Lebanon were a billion gigawatts/hour. This is equivalent to about 70,000 times the annual energy demand in Lebanon. Total resource is defined as the total energy stored underground in Lebanon at a temperature sufficient to produce electricity above 100 degrees Celsius and at a depth reached by current drilling techniques (less than 7,000 meters [4.3 miles] below ground level). In the absence of any direct measurement of this resource, the level of confidence is deemed “low” and this resource is classified as “probable,” according to the International Geothermal Reporting Code.

The preliminary study showed that there was a very small fraction of the geothermal heat that might be economically exploited, according to current technical conditions. A both optimistic and realistic scenario allows considering the installation of a 1.3-megawatt facility by 2020. If this attempt proves successful and yields positive results, four additional power generation plants may be built by 2020, bringing geothermal energy production up to 6 gigawatts per hour. Total energy production may be increased to 30 gigawatts an hour by 2025, i.e., 0.2% of the total energy demand.

Recommendations to start exploration

The study suggests starting an exploration program specifically designed for geothermal energy. It aims at enhancing the level of confidence in geothermal resources in the identified potential areas and classifying these areas as “indicated” or “measured” according to the International Geothermal Reporting Code.

The proposed exploration program includes superficial geophysical investigations and drilling of one geothermal well. This is the only means available in light of the current technology potential to ensure the existence of a geothermal resource.

The investment costs for this exploration program are estimated at $5 million, with results issued within three years.

If the geothermal potential is proven, the first pilot facilities may be completed at an additional cost of $20 million. Wells can be dug and a second geothermal power generation plant can be built until the start of energy production. At that point private sector investors may finance this stage.

The development of geothermal technology in Lebanon mainly requires strong government incentives and concise procedures for granting permits and licenses during the first 10 years of the initial geothermal energy development phase in Lebanon. 

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Found in: lebanon, lebanese oil industry, lebanese gas, lebanese economy, fuel, energy, business
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