The Earth is pretty much what you want it to be. That’s not just a philosophical statement. Consider this. Even as companies like GIBSS use geothermal energy to cool air, Ritesh Arya is using geothermal energy as a clean and almost endless supply of heat. “Just drill a well 3 km to 4 km deep to hit temperatures of 200°C to 300°C,” says the 45-year-old hydrogeologist and owner of Arya Drillers, a company that works on underground water sources and geothermal explorations in the Himalayas. If there’s a stream in the vicinity, it can be diverted to the heat source to produce steam that can run turbines. “If there’s no water body,” says Arya, “there’s plenty of sewage water that can be poured in to generate steam.” The steam can also be condensed into clean water as a byproduct.
Arya is convinced that the earth itself is the cleanest alternative to coal-, oil-, and nuclear-based power generation. He has prepared a geothermal map of about 400 sites in India, which includes Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Hyderabad. But it is in the sub-zero temperatures of Puga in the Ladakh region of Kashmir that Arya convinced the government that geothermal energy could be used to good effect. Arya’s research helped identify underground water resources in the otherwise arid region, as well as a readymade hot water source in the Siachen glacier region for the Indian Army.
Last year, Arya was named among the top 10 innovators at the United Nations Energy Convention in Geneva. Arya has worked in nearby regions too, such as Sasoma, Chumathang, Marsimik La, and Demchuk, along with researchers from Norway and Iceland. Funds worth Rs 6.5 crore were approved by the Research Council of Norway for the project. Today, geothermal energy is seen as a sustainable source of power for the entire region, and wells are being drilled to produce hot water for small power plants.
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is assessing the feasibility of geothermal energy in Jammu and Kashmir. The biggest cost for a geothermal plant is mainly in drilling—the power-generating equipment is the same as that for coal- or gas-fired plants. Since there are no recurring fuel costs, energy can be priced less. Globally, the average cost of power is about $0.03 (Rs 1.68) per kwh, and depends on the size of the project.
Globally around 11GW of geothermal power is produced in 24 countries, including the U.S., the Philippines, and Iceland. But this power is generated from underground hot springs; Arya recommends tapping lava energy or what he calls agneyodgara. Gustav R. Grob, fellow of the Energy Institute, London, says Arya’s method combines the conventional hot spring system of generating energy with Swiss company Geocogen’s method of recycling waste water by pouring it into shallow depths to create steam.
He says Arya’s methods can be used near densely populated areas to bring energy production closer to demand and reduce transportation cost. “His system can be scaled from 1 MW to 1,000 MW of electricity—it is the decision-makers who have to decide how green and sustainable they want power generation to be,” adds Grob.