According to a report from an interdisciplinary panel from MIT, the United States could create the capacity for 100,000 MW of enhanced geothermal in just 50 years with relatively modest investments. If you would like to read the full report, it’s here, but be forewarned that it is over 370 pages.
The estimate of what it could cost to ramp up the enhanced geothermal infrastructure is $800 million to $1 billion over a fifteen-year period. (What did Solyndra cost — $535 million?) Solar and wind are intermittent power sources, though storage systems may make them more attractive over time. Geothermal plants, once established, tend to produce energy nearly constantly and can even outperform coal plants.
Though relatively unsexy in the press, the fact that enhanced geothermal has much less environmental impact than fossil fuel or nuclear power plants seems not to have fully registered with the public. Also, because of their very small footprints, geothermal plants may actually be more environmentally friendly than solar or wind plants. Both solar and wind can require large tracts of land, and solar panels need to be cleaned regularly, which potentially means large amounts of water usage. Of course, wind turbines and flying creatures like birds and bats don’t mix well.
So, why is geothermal flying so low under the radar? Probably the fact that it is underground mostly is a contributing factor — very few lay people have seen any photos of the mechanisms involved, nor have they visited a geothermal plant to see firsthand what the technology looks like.
Perhaps Romney and Obama need to investigate enhanced geothermal technology more closely as well, instead of going back and forth about coal and solar. If Oregon’s Newberry Volcano has enough geothermal potential to power the whole state, how could geothermal be overlooked ever again?
Image Credit: Stepheng3, Wiki Commons, Public Domain