Clean Power

Published on January 28th, 2013 | by Jake Richardson


Geothermal Power Plant Cost Potentially Reduced By 50%

January 28th, 2013 by  

Geothermal developers from AltaRock Energy, a Washington state-based company, have been working on creating geothermal reservoirs with their own technology. They have recently made three such reservoirs from a single well, which means there is a greater chance a commercial geothermal plant can be built because with more reservoirs there is greater flow and energy output for each well. With human-made reservoirs expanding the energy output, the overall cost of constructing a geothermal plant could be reduced by 50%.

Newberry site geothermal system. (Image Credit: Alta Rock)

“The purpose of the Newberry EGS project is to demonstrate AltaRock’s tne technology designed to lower the cost of EGS, and thus allow economic extraction of heat from the earth in locations where high temperatures can be reached by conventional drilling techniques,” said Susan Petty, founder and president of AltaRock. (Source: Fort Mill Times)

These reservoirs are also called stimulated zones or enhanced geothermal systems, and located at the Newberry Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) Demonstration site, which is near an ancient volcano in Oregon. They are created by injecting cold water into hot, low permeability rock to amplify fractures there, which then allows the surface hot water to leak out and fill the human-made reservoirs. (The Department of Energy has contributed over $20 million to their research.)

The potential costs savings results from the ability to create multiple hot water reservoirs from one well or single site. Alta Rock has made Thermally Degradable Zonal Isolation Materials (TZIM) to help create these multiple zones. A biodegradable polymer was used at the Newberry site in a process that was implemented several times. It is possible to do more than three stimulation rounds at one site for reservoir creation.

If you would like to follow the Newberry project updates, Alta Rock has been publishing a blog.

Geothermal is believed to have large potential because it has a smaller environmental footprint and produces clean energy 24/7, whereas solar and wind power are intermittent sources. Typically, one may think of Iceland as being nearly synonymous with geothermal power, but there is no reason it can’t be developed all over the world, if there are sufficient natural resources for it.

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  • Lou Gage

    Injecting a fluid into heated and unstable rock zones is good if it is for a geothermal plant but bad if the same (basically) process is used to extract natural gas – is that good science? I will admit to not being a “subterrian” engineer but just seems like some like to pick and choose science. Just saying…. Lou Gage

    • poningru

      Lou: Injecting a fluid into the ground is only an with ‘fracking’ because of the pollutants contained in the fluid being injected, and most of the fluid being left in the ground at the end of the process. With Geothermal a) the fluid is not a pollutant (at least all the articles and papers I’m reading don’t say so, please point me toward a paper that says otherwise), and b) the fluid is in a loop i.e does not get left in the ground at the end of the process.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “created by injecting cold water into hot, low permeability rock to amplify fractures”

      “A biodegradable polymer was used at the Newberry site.”

      The recent Oregon test site used CO2 to fracture rock.

      All these are benign. Very much unlike what is being used for natural gas fracking.

      • Otis11

        Well, the evidence to support this is actually a bit shaky as the Oil and Gas companies do not have to disclose what is in their fluids according to the exemption given in, I believe, the Clean Air and Water Act. (Kind of a misnomer but ok)

        Many of the chemicals being injected down well are actually completely safe, and I can honestly say for at least 1 such company that I would have no qualms about swimming in a pool of their fracking fluid. (Yes, I do know exactly the chemicals in it – not an issue). Now I realize that this isn’t the case with all of the fracking fluids (some of which I wouldn’t go near with a hazmat suit) and that the natural gas itself seeping into the water supply can also be an issue.

        The reason I say this is simply to point out that the technology of fracking itself isn’t the problem, but rather certain companies means of doing it. Granted, the Geothermal method is also more sustainable as it will produce for thousands of years to come while the natural gas well will run dry, but regardless, it’s the methods employed that are the issue, not the technology.

        Disclaimer: I know this is likely to be an unpopular comment, but just as I would fight to promote the truth of cleantech I have to promote the truth of other energy sources as well. While I do have intimate knowledge of some O&G information, I do not work for that industry and have nothing to gain by promoting it.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Actually, I’m quite happy to see your comment.

          I’ll accept your word that the fracking chemicals one company uses are safe – for the purposes of this discussion.

          Now, if that company is in the natural gas fracking business and has a benign, fairly benign, fracking cocktail I’d think they would be well served by making that fact very public.

          And then licensing their formula to other frackers which should create an additional profit center.

          Both the industry and the environment would profit.

          It wouldn’t solve the methane leak problem or stop the CO2 produced by burning NG, but it might take care of some of the fracking problems.

          If we can make enhanced (hot rock) geothermal work at an acceptable price then we’re in great shape. Geothermal is 24/365 and dispatchable. Enhanced geothermal sites are found all around the world.

          • Otis11

            Glad to hear. And while I know they are trying to grow their portfolio as it simply means more profits for them – many fracking companies already have established contracts and supply chains. Until they are given incentive to switch (whether that be enough bad PR or changing the Clean Air, Clean Water act) it’s more work and more expensive in the short run to switch, so they don’t.

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