Technological advancements paving the way for geothermal growth


Technological advancements paving the way for geothermal growth

Preliminary industry data from the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) annual development report reveals that year-end geothermal growth in 2012 was up 5% from the previous year. This uptick in development, which produced 147.05 MW of gross online geothermal capacity in 2012, is due in part to pioneering developments in geothermal technology. "Outside of a few Western States, utility-scale geothermal may be considered a more limited energy source than some other renewable technologies, but that is changing. Geothermal power is expanding across the Western half of the country, and new scientific and technological advancements offering the opportunity to produce geothermal power from Hawaii and Alaska to Texas and the Gulf States, with the ultimate potential being generating electrical power in nearly every state," said GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell. According to the EIA, geothermal energy accounts for about 3.5% of renewable energy generation in the United States, with geothermal plants and small power units online in nine states including California, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Preliminary results show that California now has over 2,700 MW of installed geothermal capacity, more than any other U.S. state or world country. One of the newest geothermal technologies taking hold in California, and around the nation, is enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) technology. EGS involves extracting heat from engineered reservoirs through fluid injection into deeper hotter rock, and represents the opportunity to tap into staggering geothermal potential worldwide. The U.S. Department of Energy has invested roughly $37.5 million into EGS projects in California since the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. A 2010 Southern Methodist University study showed EGS technology broadens geothermal potential across the U.S. to nearly 3 million MW -- a near 40-fold increase compared to traditional geothermal technology potential. David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Physics, Southern Methodist University said: "Collaborative research between UT Austin Bureau of Economic Geology and SMU Geothermal Laboratory has advanced the understanding of in-situ unconventional reservoir thermal capacity and longevity within the Texas oil and gas fields. The extraction quantities are greater than previously stated and the estimated economics reduce the pricing to below 10 cents/kw-hr with use of existing well sites. Next steps are to prove the reservoir flow rates and longevity. The current Texas legislature session includes geothermal energy related bills, as the legislators understand that geothermal energy development will be realized in the state." Year-end data also shows that Nevada, the nation's second leading geothermal capacity state behind California, now has over 500 MW of installed capacity. In 2012, Enel Green Power's Stillwater Geothermal Power Plant was commissioned in the Silver State, becoming the country's first ever hybrid solar-geothermal project. This project along with others, such as the first co-production of geothermal power at Nevada's Florida Canyon gold mine, exemplify the many ways that innovative new technologies are thrusting the geothermal industry forward in key U.S. markets. GEA will release its full annual update on February 26 at the Geothermal Energy Industry Briefing in Washington, D.C. The half-day event will feature a panel exploring new technologies that can address geothermal risk and expand potential production, moderated by Gawell, with panelists Boyd, Blackwell and Robertson-Tait. The Geothermal Energy Association