Canada’s geothermal power industry turns to the “crowd” in the absence of government funding for research

Geothermal power is a real, but untapped opportunity in Canada.

In a 2008 story about Canada being a laggard when it comes geothermal power production, I wrote that Canada is the only nation along the Pacific Ring of Fire to not have a commercial geothermal power plant up and running. “We’re one of the few countries with significant geothermal potential that’s not doing anything about it,” was a quote I used from Gary Thompson, an industry executive based in Canada who has had no choice but to pursue geothermal opportunities in other countries.

The “not doing anything about it” part pretty much remains true today, as there are still no commercial plants in operation. Not that some folks haven’t been trying, particularly the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA), whose members represent about 20 per cent of installed geothermal power capacity globally. Problem is, that capacity isn’t in Canada, despite estimates that 5,000 megawatts — initially — could be commercially developed here.

For a few years now, CanGEA has been trying to build an industry roadmap and implementation plan that would give geothermal power development in Canada a much-needed kickstart. This “roadmap” requires market reports, maps that identify the resource opportunity, and databases that track those opportunities over time. It would support the argument for public policy that supports early efforts to establish a geothermal power market in Canada — the same policies that have supported Canada’s oil, gas and mining industries over the decades. Unfortunately the roadmap is incomplete, and that’s because the industry has been unable to convince the federal and provincial governments (in geopower hotspot zones, namely Alberta, NWT and B.C.) to financially support this early, crucial research.

This has left the opportunity in limbo, so much so that CanGEA — in what appears to be a first for crowdsourcing crowdfunding — is getting ready to launch a campaign on to help bridge the financial gap. At this point, it looks to raise $300,000 as part of a two-month campaign. “The topic of turning to public funds to shore up what the government has given or won’t give is a daily topic at CanGEA and is a circular argument,” says Alison Thompson, founder and chair of CanGEA and a former project manager/engineer at oil companies Suncor and Nexen. “The government won’t give more until industry gives more matching dollars. But the industry can’t start until the government provides geothermal energy with the same platform as it has for wind, solar, biomass, run of river, not to mention what it has  historically given and still gives to the carbon-based fuel industry and nuclear industry.”

So the association is turning to the crowd. And what will the funds it hopes to raise go toward? CanGEA wants to complete its industry roadmap, and also hire a policy team that can lobby the federal government to put geothermal energy on a level playing field with other renewables and conventional fossil and nuclear energy sources.

It’s an interesting experiment, one that will shine a light on the industry and the Canadian government’s apparent disinterest in the geothermal power opportunity. Will it work? The association may very well not meet its fundraising goal. But even if it doesn’t, it will have made a strong point and raised attention to this opportunity to a level more deserved.

Stay tuned. I’ll let you know if and when the campaign formally launches.

Coincidentally, I wrote this blog post at the same time as I received this e-mail comment from Toby Heaps, CEO and publisher of Corporate Knights, who is currently on vacation in Iceland. “The geothermal swimming pool here is amazing,” he wrote, referring to the hot water “lagoons” that have become tourist attractions at some of the country’s geothermal plants. I recently had a similar tourist experience in Costa Rica, which also has some geothermal power capacity.

The same tourism opportunity exists in Canada, if we get geothermal power into this country’s energy mix.

2 thoughts on “Canada’s geothermal power industry turns to the “crowd” in the absence of government funding for research”

  1. Would it be possible to get Alison Thompson to explain in some detail what she means by “Same Platform”. How are governments treating each of these energy sources differently & to the detriment of Geothermal?

    In fact, there’s likely an important story here for a journalist. Twelve years ago, USA President George W Bush brought in a 30% personal or business tax credit for Renewable Energy, and it was matched by California & New Jersey, then many more states. This means that a $20,000 solar or wind installation in Ontario could cost $8,000 across the Niagara River in New York State. How can Ontario manufacturers compete with low-cost USA electricity? After all, high electricity costs de-industrialised Niagara, Hamilton & Brantford.

    Canada has fast business depreciation write-off for Renewable Energy, but that’s all. Wouldn’t this apply to Geothermal as well, but Not to oil, coal & nuclear?

    Ontario has just cut microFIT rates 28%! while reducing the Ontario content rule from 60% to 20% (WTO challenge from Japan & Europe). While solar panel prices have dropped c80% since the Crash of 2008, the other components have generally held firm and a Structural Engineer (roof reinforcement) and Building Permit are now required, at additional cost. The net result will likely be the death certificate for the foreign manufacturers who have located factories here, as well as fewer Solar installations. Dealers will now import the cheapest foreign panels in order to compete.

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