Geothermal power is the largest source of economically and technically feasible energy now available in our planet. It derives from the molten mass filling the inner core of the earth, over which the surface on which we live forms a relatively thin crust. Problems with geothermal energy are that technology for its use is new and little known, and it is accessible only in the earth's "hot spots." With these the Philippine archipelago is well endowed, located as it is on the "Pacific Ring of Fire." When accurately understood and wisely used this immense arc of tectonic and volcanic activity that girdles the Pacific Ocean, previously only feared for its earthquakes and eruptions, can become a major benefactor.
The use of geothermal heat is not new. Both Norse Vikings who settled Iceland more than 1,000 years ago and American Indians used geothermal geysers for cooking and baking. Maoris, who settled New Zealand some 600 years ago, grew their sweet potatoes in geothermally heated gardens.
The first industrial harnessing of steam from the earth began in northern Italy more than half a century ago, but the largest geothermal installation today is at The Geysers in California where dry steam readily lends itself to conventional generating, providing more than enough electric power for the city of San Francisco. However most of the geothermal energy available in the Philippines and elsewhere is wet steam?70 percent of production from a well may be hot water?and this demands a different and more difficult technology.
ARTURO PINEDA ALCARAZ was born in Manila in 1916 and grew up in Baguio where his father was city auditor during the gold mining boom. After studying a year at the University of the Philippines, ALCARAZ transferred to Mapua Institute of Technology when it offered the first degree in mining engineering. He earned a masters degree in geology at the University of Wisconsin and returned home in 1941 to be assigned by the Bureau of Mines to the island of Busuanga. Next posted to the Weather Bureau, its director, Maximo Lachica, introduced him to the science of seismology.
In 1952 the Philippine Congress responded to the destructive eruptions of Mount Hibok-Hibok on Camiguin Island by creating the Commission on Volcanology. Assigned as Chief Volcanologist, ALCARAZ began to pursue more fully the study of volcanos in order to improve eruption warning and assess possibilities for use of stored heat beneath them.
The first electric bulb in the Philippines lit by earth-heat energy was in Tiwi, Albay, on April 12, 1967. Three years later President Ferdinand Marcos set apart two geothermal reservations to be administered by the National Power Corporation (NPC), to which ALCARAZ transferred in 1974 as Chief of the Geothermal Division. The NPC, in cooperation with Philippine Geothermal, Inc., a subsidiary of Union Oil Company of California, has since brought on stream 550 megawatts of power at Tiwi and at Mac-Ban near Los Banos, making the Philippines the largest producer of geothermal electric energy from wet steam in the world. Meanwhile major geothermal energy fields in Leyte and Negros are under development by the Philippine National Oil Company Energy Development Corporation, with the cooperation of New Zealand and specialists from elsewhere. Present production is scheduled to be multiplied six times in the next seven years, thus further cutting down on oil imports.
The Philippines may have a potential to generate 200,000 megawatts of geothermal electric power -- about 40 times present total power production -- at a competitive capital cost. Added to electricity from this energy source are possibilities for refrigeration, drying and salt making.
Retired in March 1981 at age 65, ALCARAZ continues as a consultant to the Philippine National Oil Company, seeing to the training in tapping earth energy of a new generation of Filipino technicians -- in New Zealand, Japan, the United States and Iceland.
In electing ARTURO PINEDA ALCARAZ to receive the 1982 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his scientific perspicacity and selfless perseverance in guiding Filipinos to understand and use one of their greatest natural resources.