Turkey's Geothermal Sector - Can Arıhan

Turkey has a very high potential for geothermal energy. However, its high potential was not realized until the last few years. According to GEOPRO, Turkey’s installed capacity was only 15 MWe in 2005 than 1.500 MWe as of 2020. This figure is the fourth largest after the United States, Indonesia, and the Philippines, respectively. The remarkable rise in geothermal energy power plants' installed capacity contributed to the transformation of Turkey’s energy mix. Traditionally, Turkey relied on coal, hydroelectric energy, and natural gas to generate electricity. Like the developments worldwide, Turkey has given a significant focus on renewable energies, and especially geothermal energy is a major driving force in this transformation due to its rapidly growing capacity.

Turkey enjoys a unique geologic location as it is located in a part of the Alpine-Himalayan orogenic belt, where there are abundant geothermal energy resources. A report from European Geothermal Congress 2019 notes that the theoretical geothermal capacity is at 60.000 MWt, estimated after analyzing heat flow maps. Still, the technical potential is calculated around 4500 MWe with the current prices and governmental incentives. Therefore, even with the existing status of the market, Turkey's geothermal capacity can be tripled. Still, huge investments are needed to reach the technical capacity.

Most of the geothermal energy power plants are located in the western provinces of Turkey. According to Enerji Atlası, there are 60 geothermal power plants in Turkey, and all of the 40 power plants with the largest installed capacity are in Denizli, Aydın, or Manisa. It is because that region of Turkey is rich in geothermal resources. Other smaller geothermal plants are in operation in İzmir, Çanakkale, and Afyonkarahisar. Although the concentration of geothermal resources in Turkey prevents other regions from using this source to generate electricity, it allows for the development of expertise in that region. Many companies and components of the supply chain are rapidly developing in the western provinces of Turkey.

In the geothermal sector, there are many investors, both established players, and newcomers. A few of the companies with considerable installed capacity are Zorlu Enerji, Güriş Holding, and Çelikler Enerji, but the market is very dynamic, and each player wishes to expand its market share. For example, Sanko Enerji has just opened two geothermal plants in Manisa in January 2021. The total installed capacity of these two plants is 54.5 MW, according to Anadolu Agency. It seems that such major investments will continue given that the Turkish government offers appealing incentives and that climate change will keep forcing us to radically change our behavior in the energy sector. Invest in Manisa notes that currently, geothermal energy incentives are at 10,5 USD cent/kWh, total exemption from Value Added Tax, and ten years of fixed tariffs.

As it was mentioned above, Turkey aims at transforming its energy sector and making the electricity generation sources more environmentally friendly, but this transformation is far from complete. According to IEA data, coal is still the leading source of electricity generation in Turkey, with almost 40 percent (113.218 GWh in 2019) followed by hydroelectric power (88.886 GWh) and natural gas (56.867 GWh). Power plants that are more environmentally friendly still cannot surpass the capacity of the aforementioned sources. In 2019, wind energy generated 21.780 GWh of electricity, solar 9.578 GWh, and geothermal 8.930 GWh. Hence, we clearly see that although there was a remarkable boom in the geothermal sector in recent years, Turkey is yet to get rid of the traditional resources that have negative impacts on the environment.

In addition to electricity generation, geothermal energy is used in district heating as well. According to the report from European Geothermal Congress 2019, there are 17 geothermal city heatings. District heating (1033 MWt) and greenhouse heating (820 MWt) are the fundamental areas that geothermal energy is used in heating. Turkey is a country that has to purchase its natural gas from abroad. Hence, the more geothermal energy is used in heating, the less money has to be transferred from the budget to buy natural gas from other countries.

After noting the above-mentioned facts, we can suggest that if Turkey wants to become a leading powerhouse in clean energies in general and geothermal energy specifically, the following points should be incorporated into future policies. Firstly, the current government incentives are already quite effective but increasing them will fasten the growth of geothermal energy (and also other clean energy resources). Secondly, experts in geothermal energy are needed for sustained success in this field. Thus, area-specific undergraduate/graduate programs shall be offered at Turkish universities. Lastly, regulations and directives that only address the geothermal sector shall be prepared. Achievement of these points and success in other aspects of the geothermal sector will certainly yield great economic and environmental benefits.

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