The Platform


With the aid of new technology, could geothermal energy help supercharge Croatia’s economy?

While the world’s eyes are fixated on wind and solar as the renewable energy sources destined to dominate our future, they’re largely missing out on an underutilized juggernaut lurking beneath our feet: geothermal energy.

Derived from the heat that churns below the Earth’s crust, geothermal energy comes with a unique selling point—it’s an indefatigable force. Unlike solar and wind, it doesn’t clock out when the sun sets or the air stills. And its utility goes beyond merely generating electricity; it can heat homes, and pools, and even serve industrial purposes—all in the same cycle.

So, why hasn’t geothermal become the world’s energy panacea? Primarily, tapping into Earth’s subterranean heat reservoirs involves drilling to depths of several kilometers—a venture that’s not just expensive but fraught with logistical complexities. Moreover, while geothermal energy is theoretically accessible anywhere on the planet, the ease of its extraction is subject to specific geological conditions and something called the “geothermal gradient.”

Because of these constraints, geothermal energy is still playing second fiddle in the orchestra of global energy sources, accounting for less than 1% of the overall supply. However recent technological innovations and shifting economic incentives are putting the spotlight back on this overlooked energy source. And Croatia is emerging as a key player in this unfolding drama.

So why is Croatia suddenly the belle of the geothermal ball? A substantial portion of continental Croatia is a geothermal goldmine, with estimates suggesting that as much as 1,000 MW of energy could be produced from geothermal sources in the country. The geothermal gradient, or the rate at which temperature changes with depth below the Earth’s surface, is notably favorable here. The country also boasts unique geological features conducive to fluid collection and evidence of significant concentrations of hydrocarbon deposits and geothermal waters, primarily in the Pannonian basin region.

But there’s more than just environmental sustainability on the table here. A booming geothermal sector could be an economic game-changer for Croatia, which is currently a net importer of energy, with 30% of its electricity supply coming from overseas. A harnessing of just half of its geothermal capabilities could lead to a dramatic reduction in imported electricity—by as much as three-quarters. By achieving 75% of its geothermal potential, Croatia could even metamorphose into a net exporter of energy.

Agriculture is another sector that stands to gain immensely from geothermal energy, especially through the concept of geothermally-heated greenhouses. Given Croatia’s favorable climate, relatively inexpensive land, skilled agricultural workforce, and the availability of geothermal heat, the country is exceptionally well-positioned to exploit this opportunity. For context, in New Mexico, in the United States, geothermally-heated greenhouses cover a total of 50 acres, representing a payroll of over $5.6 million and turnover of more than $20 million.

Although Croatia currently trails the European average in renewable energy production, the country has aggressive plans to wean itself off coal by 2033 and reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030. The 2030 National Energy and Climate Plan has been set in motion to meet these targets, and geothermal energy is slated to play a critical role in this roadmap.

The COVID-19 pandemic did put a wrench in the rollout of several renewable projects, but the gears are once again beginning to turn. Construction is planned for two major geothermal plants, and multiple projects across Croatia are in various stages of development. With the support of the European Investment Bank and the expertise of industry leaders, Croatia’s ambition to achieve a sustainable and resilient economy doesn’t seem like a far-fetched dream.

Croatia’s untapped geothermal potential could not only reconfigure its own economic trajectory but also provide a blueprint for global sustainable energy solutions. The future is heating up, and it starts beneath our feet.

Pavao Vujnovac is an investor, entrepreneur, and Owner and former CEO of PPD and ENNA. Under his leadership, he successfully pioneered PPD as an established company throughout the region and a leader in natural gas trading in Croatia. Vujnovac champions a philosophy of business activity with positive impact in mind. Strategic decisions across the organization are continuously implemented to correlate with the companies’ corporate social responsibility targets. Specifically within the transport and goods sector of the business, working with this outlook at the forefront has led to the creation of new business opportunities and exciting alternative possibilities.