This Country Update for the geothermal sector in Australia will be presented at the World Geothermal Congress 2023 in Beijing, China.
The three years 2020–2022 have seen strong growth in the Australian geothermal sector. Growth has been led by the direct use of geothermal heat both with and without heat pumps, but there has also been a resurgence of interest in power generation.
Direct use projects have proliferated in the states of Western Australia and Victoria. Geothermal heating projects for a hotel, aged care facilities, public swimming pools, aquaculture, space heating, a large greenhouse development, and others have been completed or are underway in those states, including a feasibility study to utilize mine water as a geothermal source. Over 36 MWt of installed capacity is identified as of January 2023, an increase of 3 MWt (9%) since the WGC 2020+1 country update.
The demand for ground source heat pumps continues to grow, including the progressive rollout of a 750-home GSHP system for a housing development in Sydney, NSW. At least 71 MWt of GSHP capacity was installed around the country as of January 2023, an increase of 9 MWt (14.5%) since the WGC 2020+1 country update.
Companies listed on the Australian Securities Exchange developing projects to produce lithium internationally include Vulcan Energy and Controlled Thermal Resources. Other companies have applied for exploration licenses across wide regions of the country,
including in the Cooper Basin in Central Australia, where previous activities discovered lithium concentrations in geothermal brines.
The hot spring spa sector has arguably seen the most rapid growth in the development of geothermal energy resources. The world class Peninsula Hot Springs in Victoria continues to expand, with new geothermally heated pools, accommodation and horticulture facilities completed or under construction since 2020. At least three new hot spring resorts opened around the country in the period since 2020, and two more are scheduled to open in 2023. Several more in advanced planning and design stages.
State governments have promoted geothermal projects. The Victorian government released ‘Geothermal Guidelines’ intended to streamline the regulatory process for direct use projects, and also supported mapping, research and design projects to better understand
and exploit the economic potential of hot sedimentary aquifers in the Gippsland Basin. The Queensland government updated its Geothermal Regulations (which control how geothermal exploration and production is undertaken in the state) in 2022, including
world-first adoption of the UNFC Geothermal Specifications for reporting geothermal resources. There has been a proliferation of applications for geothermal exploration licenses in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and the Western Australian government is expected to announce the results of a competitive bidding round for 21 geothermal exploration areas in early 2023.
Interest also reignited for geothermal power generation. The town of Winton in Queensland, commissioned Australia’s first new geothermal power plant in 25 years in 2020. Although the plant experienced some teething problems, it is expected to be brought back online. Other interest in geothermal power has been driven by a rush to produce ‘green’ hydrogen for domestic consumption and export, and a drive by large industries to decarbonize their energy sources. Strike Energy Ltd applied for Western Australia’s first new geothermal exploration license in a decade in late 2021, before the state launched the competitive tender round. Other companies have applied for large exploration areas in South Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia.
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