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13-10-2010, 02:29 PM

This article is presented by:
D. Chandrasekharam
Department of Earth Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology
Bombay 400076, India

All the geothermal provinces of India are located in areas with high heat flow and geothermal gradients. The heat flow and thermal gradient values vary from 75–468 mW/m2 and 59–234°C respectively. Additional exploration studies and reservoir modelling have been carried out between 1995 and 1998 to understand the reservoir characteristics. Thermal gas discharges from several thermal provinces recorded high helium concentration varying from 0.5–6.9%. Gas data, together with heat flow and thermal gradient data, suggests the presence of granites and related intrusives with high U concentration (0.19–10.7%) in these provinces. Many such provinces are also best suited for HDR project and implimentations. High 4He content in the thermal gases is obliterating the presence of primordial helium. Pilot power plants, commissioned at certain thermal discharge sites, proved the power generating capacity of these provinces. The estimated power generating capacity of the thermal discharges is about 10,600 MW. The available geophysical and geochemical data are sufficient to identify sites for undertaking deep drilling project and implimentations, and to commission binary power plants. Many independent power producers are keen to collaborate with foreign financial institutions to develop geothermal energy sources in rural India. With the existing environmental problems associated with coal based mega power project and implimentations, and with incentives given to develop non-conventional energy sources, the future of the Indian geothermal energy program is bright.
The seven major geothermal provinces of India, enclosing nearly 400 thermal springs, are associated with midcontinental rifts, subduction, sedimentary basins and Cretaceous-Tertiary volcanism (Fig. 1). These provinces include i) The Himalayas, ii) Sohana, iii) Cambay, iv) Son- Narmada-Tapi rift zone (SONATA), v) West coast, vi) Godavari, and vii) Mahanadi. With the recent volcanic eruption, the Barren island has become one the most important geothermal provinces in the Indian subcontinent. The estimated energy from one third of these springs is of the order of 40.9x1018 calories. This is equivalent to the energy that can be obtained from 5.7 billion tonnes of coal or 28 million barrels of oil. If these energy resources are developed for a medium to low temperature application it will substitute about 10,600 MW of power (Ravi Shanker, 1996). The estimated power shortfall in India at present is about 5000 MW and it could rise to about 43,000 MW in the next five years. To decrease this supply-demand gap, renewable energy sources have been given increased importance during the last few years. Thus, wind energy is expected to generate about 1000 MW, biomass about 140 MW, small hydro power about 172 MW and solar about 810 MW of power.

Though geothermal energy sources can potentially generate 10,600 MW of power, they have not been exploited to date. Additional exploration studies on thermal gases from these geothermal provinces have been carried out since 1996 in order to understand the reservoir characteristics. In addition, Deep Seismic Sounding (DSS) profiles were carried out across several geothermal provinces (Son-Narmada-Tapi; West coast and Cambay ) to understand the crustal structure below these thermal provinces. Several potential sites were identified for further exploration through deep drilling. Private power producers are keen to develop this source with financial partners from other countries.
Exploration activities in terms of geochemical studies on thermal gases, computer simulations and geophysical data acquisition, are being carried out in some of the most promising geothermal fields, like the Puga, Manikaran, Tattapani, Cambay, and the West coast. Work on other thermal provinces is yet to make a beginning.

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Geothermal Energy Resources of India

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Indian geothermal provinces have the capacity to produce 10,600 MW of power- a figure which is five time greater than the combined power being produced from non-conventional energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass. But yet geothermal power project and implimentations have not seen the sunlight due the availability of 192 billion tones of recoverable coal reserves. With escalating environmental problems with coal based project and implimentations, Indian has to depend on clean, cheap, rural based and eco-friendly geothermal power in future. Due to technical and logistic problems with other non-conventional energy sources, present industrialist mood is upbeat and IPPs are showing keen interest in developing geothermal based power project and implimentations. With the existing open economic policies of the Govt., and large incentives given to non-conventional energy sectors, the future of geothermal energy sector in India appears to be bright.


Several geothermal provinces in India characterized by high heat flow (78-468 mW/m2) and thermal gradients (47-100o C/km) discharge about 400 thermal springs. After the oil crisis in 1970s, the Geological Survey of India conducted reconnoiter survey on them in collaboration with UN organization and reported the results in several of their records and special publications ( G.S.I., 1987; G.S.I.,1991). Subsequently, detailed geological, geophysical and tectonic studies on several thermal provinces (Kaila and Krishna, 1992; Gupta, 1981; Ravi Shanker, 1988) geochemical characteristics of the thermal discharges and reservoir temperature estimations have been carried out by several workers ( Giggenbach, 1976; Giggenbach, 1983; Nevada and Rao, 1991; Chandrasekharam, 1989; 1992; 1996; Chandrasekharam and Antu, 1995; Chandrasekharam and Jayaprakash, 1996; Chandrasekharam, 1997 ).


The estimated power shortage in India in the next five years is about 43,000 MW. This demand will increase in the coming years due to economic globalization. Though India boasts of generating eco-friendly energy sources during the coming millennium, the present power generated through non-conventional sources is far less than the installed capacity of the power plants (Table 1). Thus the total installed capacity from renewable stands at 1313 MW which is 2.6 % of the total potential. Though capital subsidy and financial incentives are given by the Govt. of India, non-conventional energy sources are not able to bridge the gap between demand and supply of power. Geothermal energy, a non-conventional energy source, has not so far put to use though its power generating capacity is of the order of 10,600 MW. Neither the Govt. bodies nor the independent power producers (IPPs) are aware of this vast resource in the country. When non-conventional energy sources have the potential of generating about 60,600 MW power, which is more than the required amount for the next five years, then why Indian is not keen in developing this source in bridging supply-demand power gap? The answer lies in the 192 billion tones of recoverable coal reserves which is encouraging coal based power project and implimentations and hampering the healthy growth of non-conventional energy programs. In addition to coal, availability of naphtha in the world is adding fuel to the fire!.

Problems with conventional and non-conventional power project and implimentations

Though coal based and naphtha based power project and implimentation are riding over other non-conventional energy sources, environmental problems associated with such mega-project and implimentations are many. India’s 67,000 MW of thermal power generating capacity constitutes about 70% of the country’s total power generation capacity. Due to oil shocks of 1970s, oil-fired power generation has come down to 15%. This has increased the dependence on coal based power project and implimentations due to 192 billion tones recoverable coal reserves available with India. Both oil-based and coal based power project and implimentations have similar environmental problems. Indian is already the sixth largest and second fastest growing contributor to greenhouse gases. Emissions of nitric oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter is expected to treble in the next decade. The greatest unsolved problem with coal based power plants is the fly-ash. Indian coal has an ash content of 45 %. In contrast to most of the other (developed?) countries, which stopped promoting coal based thermal plants, these thermal power plants are thriving in India producing 75 million tones of fly-ash!! This production is expected to grow to 100 million tones in the next millennium. Only 3 % of this is being utilized! If all the bricks in the country were to be made of fly-ash, only 5% of 75 million tones will be put to use ( Business World, 1998). These toxic emissions are ruining historical monuments, such as the Taj Mahal.

Concluding remarks:

With escalating environmental problems with coal based project and implimentation, non-participation of IPPs in hydro power project and implimentations, logistic and technical problems clouding other non-conventional energy project and implimentations, in future, India has to depend on clean, rural based, cheap energy sources and can not ignore its 10,600 MW geothermal potential. With available advance technology, all the medium enthalpy resources can be developed to support binary power project and implimentations. Compact generators like those developed by M/s Sowit and Turboden, Italy ( Angelino, 1995) or like those developed by NEDO, Japan, are most suitable for generating rural based power from various thermal provinces. Till recently IPPs are not aware of geothermal resources of the country due to lack of awareness and mass communication. Conferences like the one conducted here, should be organized in India with major industrial participation.

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