A study released last week from the U.S. Geological Survey reports that geothermal power production could significantly add to electric power generating capacity within the United States.
The first national geothermal assessment done in 30 years by a governmental agency, the report indicates that the U.S. has “identified conventional” sources of geothermal systems that, if fully developed, are capable of generating 9,057 megawatts-electric (MWe). An additional 30,033 MWe of potential power generation is available from “conventional undiscovered” geothermal sources, and 517,800 MWe from unconventional Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) or high temperature, low-permeability resources.
By developing the already known conventional sources, the reports says, geothermal electric power production could expand 260%, adding 6,500MWe to the total of slightly more than 2,500 MWe currently generated.
We’ve heard a lot about drilling for oil offshore and in Alaska as a means to increase our domestic sources of energy, but the clamor for “drill now” has overshadowed the significant contribution geothermal can contribute to our domestic “energy portfolio”.
The full potential of geothermal
In a press release last week Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne said: “The results of this assessment point to a greater potential for geothermal power production than previous assessments.” (In August, the Dept. of Interior held an an auction of lease parcels for geothermal energy resources on federal land in Nevada. The auction was the largest geothermal sale ever, bringing in $28.2 million for 105,211 acres.)
Of the few reports released from non-government agencies on the potential of geothermal power production, one released last year from MIT (pdf) proposed the United States, already the world’s largest producer of geothermal energy, take a much more aggressive approach to harnessing the vast stores of heat energy in the earth’s crust.
“The answer to the world’s energy needs may have been under our feet all this time,” said Jefferson Tester, MIT professor of chemical engineering at the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.
Currently, the U.S. operates geothermal plants from “high grade geothermal systems” in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. The largest geothermal plant in the world, according to Vancouver-based Western GeoPower, is The Geysers geothermal field in northern California.
Private companies are investing millions of dollars of research money to investigate and develop techniques to expand the potential of geothermal. Among them are companies like Geysir Green Energy and the ubiquitous Google, announcing in August their plan to invest more than $10 million in Enhanced Geothermal Systems while pressuring the federal government to increase funding for geothermal development.
The USGS assessment should help spur development of geothermal energy production as the goal of fully realizing geothermal’s potential becomes an important component in creating the new energy economy.
To learn more about the specifics and full results of the report, visit the USGS Energy Resources and News page.
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