The Power of the Steam

Hi, i was out circulation for the past few weeks. I am writing my disseration for the past month and it’s now crunch time. I will be posting soon part 2 of Communicating Sustainability. For the mean time, here’s an article you guys might be interested.


At the dawn of the 18th century, a new way to use energy was invented – an engine powered by steam. The advent of steam engine brought about the rise of the machines: the spinning jenny, the flying shuttle, the power loom and of course, the steam ship.  Steam power sparked two important events in the history of man: the Industrial Revolution in 1800s and the Birth of Geothermal Power as a sustainable energy resource.

It was in Italy where the power of the steam was reinvented. The experiment carried out in 1904 by Prince Piero Ginori Conti in Larderello, Italy introduced yet another application of steam. The successful lighting of Larderello’s five bulbs catapulted the world into the bright dawn of geothermal age.

The world's largest geothermal wet steam field in Leyte at more 700 MW.

The birth of geothermal power came to the Philippines five decades later. It was in the summer of 1967 when Filipino geothermal pioneers, led by Dr. Arturo Alcaraz, successfully lighted an electric bulb using steam-powered electricity in Tiwi, a town near the world famous mayon volcano.  When the electric bulb lit up, the age of geothermal power in the Philippines has arrived.

The Tiwi demonstration presented a viable energy alternative. A strong policy support spurred the exploration and development of the vast volcanic systems spread over the entire archipelago. This prompted the construction of a 2.5kw pilot plant in Tiwi, Albay near the world-famous Mayon volcano which later became the site of the country’s first commercial geothermal field – the 275 mw Tiwi geothermal production field.

In 1971, the National Power Corporation commissioned the Makiling-Banahaw steam fields, then the world’s largest then at 425.7 megawatts.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government fast-tracked the exploration of other resource areas. It was for this purpose that the state-owned Philippine National Oil company created the subsidiary PNOC Energy Development Corporation (PNOC EDC) – to accelerate the development of indigenous energy sources to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels.

From nothing, geothermal capacity in the Philippines had reached 784 megawatts in 1983, making the Philippines the world’s second largest producer of geothermal power. Major exploration drilling programs confirmed the development potential of BacMan in Sorsogon, Mt. Apo in Mindanao and a number of prospects in Leyte. In the early 90’s, EDC aggressively pursued the development of two more steam fields and the expansion of Leyte and Southern Negros. There occurred a very rapid build-up of generating capacity with the passage of the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Law. It allowed geothermal companies to enter into power contracts with private contractors. Beginning 1993, PNOC EDC signed six BOT contracts for the construction and operation of 10 individual power plants with an aggregate total of 690 megawatts.

By 1997, EDC already had fully operating commercial steam fields in the islands of Luzon, Leyte, Mindanao and Negros with Leyte as the largest wet steam field in the world at 701 megawatts. No other single location in the world has been tapped for so much geothermal capacity to date. Leyte is also home to the world’s single largest power station – the 232.5-megawatt Malitbog power plant.

The Palinpinon steam field is a classic example of compact development built upon 60 hectares of ground space leveled from surrounding hills. Filipino geothermal engineers perfected the wet steam technology and mastered reservoir management.

In the new Philippine Energy Plan, the Philippine energy sector will install about 4,000 megawatts of clean energy from geothermal, wind, solar, hydro and biomass. These will bring the share of indigenous resources in the nation’s energy mix to nearly 40%. power generation from geothermal accounts for 19% of the country’s total electricity requirement. In 2004, the Philippines achieved no. 1 status in terms of geothermal contribution to the power mix at 18.6%.

The 150 MW geothermal power project in Bacman with a view of world famour Mayon Volcano.

The active participation of the private sector is critical to ensure sufficient and reliable energy supply. Also, electricity demand is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 7.2 percent. Reforms in the power market will definitely include strategic alliances with private investors in the aggressive development of renewable energy potentials like geothermal.  There is a vast area of geothermal resources waiting to be developed. We are only tapping less than half of the country’s 4,790 MW estimated potential! The Department of Energy is offering energy independence package through Geothermal Bidding and Contracting Rounds. including the 10 prospective geothermal sites with around 300 – 510 megawatts potential capacities.

On my next post, I will be discussing the country’s Renewable Energy Law and how it will affect the future of clean energy resources like geothermal.


About janusalmighty

Janus Almighty is an avid sustainability junkie. While shamelessly promoting sustainability of the corporate kind, he only does so to advance the practice of disclosing sustainability performance in the Philippine business sector View all posts by janusalmighty

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