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Published on January 1st, 2018 | by Tina Casey

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Trump Holds Geothermal Card Up His Sleeve When Pitching “Energy Dominance”

January 1st, 2018 by  


President* Trump’s idea of US energy dominance is exclusive to fossil fuels. Nevertheless, his central premise — “innovation and new technology have opened trillions of dollars of energy for development” — can be equally applied to the vast wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal resources at the country’s disposal.

In fact, wind and solar have continued to make strides in both R&D and project development under the Trump administration. Renewables are now challenging natural gas as well as coal for power generation. Trump’s Energy Department has also fast-tracked a new coal-killing hydropower transmission line for New England.

Geothermal is a laggard in comparison, but maybe not for long. It looks like the Trump administration is gearing up for a new round of R&D that could propel the US geothermal industry out of the doldrums.

Shhhh! Don’t tell the President!

Lowering The Cost Of Geothermal Energy: #ThanksTrump!

The Energy Department’s Geothermal Technologies Office has continued to crank out news on a regular basis ever since Trump took office, and it saved one of the most interesting items for last.

On December 13, the office announced the first steps toward an R&D program seeking ways to lower the cost of drilling.

Drilling accounts for about half the cost of geothermal development, so focusing on that angle should produce high impact results.

The agency’s ongoing GeoVision planning initiative identifies two main pathways to low-cost drilling: reducing the cost of materials, and shrinking the timetable.

As for why geothermal, a 2008 US Geological Survey resource assessment describes the potential for a total of 9,057 megawatts in electrical power generation from geothermal systems already identified, with another potential of 30,033 from undiscovered resources.

That’s nothing. The same study also came up with an estimate of 517,800 megawatts from artifically “enhanced” geothermal systems.

Currently the go-to estimate is 100,000 megawatts. The US has just a little more than 3,000 megawatts in installed capacity now, so freeing up that additional capacity translates into a major job creation program in addition to the environmental benefits.

Considering the Trump administration’s focus on forking over national parks and monuments for fossil fuel development, it’s worth noting that the 2008 assessment intentionally excludes geothermal resources in national parks and other closed public lands.

The new Energy Department announcement is a Request for Information, not a funding announcement, so don’t hold your breath for low-cost drills to pop up at your local hardware store any time soon.

Nevertheless, the Energy Department has already held an exploratory industry/stakeholder roundtable earlier this year. The Request for Information steps things up a notch by setting priorities for future development.

So, if you have any bright ideas regarding “challenges and opportunities” that could help kickstart the domestic geothermal industry, send them in. Don’t be shy — everyone is invited!

Proof Of Life For US Geothermal Industry

In another positive sign, on November 28 the Energy Department pumped out a press release for “The Collab,” which is a new research project at SURF, South Dakota’s Sanford Underground Research Center.

SURF leverages the site of the former Homestake Gold Mine, which was the largest and deepest gold mine in North America until it shuttered in 2002.

By 2006 the mine was reborn as the deepest research lab in the US. The Collab launched this year — yes, under the Trump administration — as a 12-member effort spearheaded by the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley  National Laboratory, and it’s aiming straight for the heart of the nation’s enhanced geothermal potential.

Here’s the explainer from the Geothermal Office:

We can actually inject fluid into the low-permeability, fluid-poor hot rocks to enhance the size and connectivity of fluid pathways. Once created, “enhanced geothermal systems” function just as a natural geothermal system does, and we can access and use that stranded heat.

So far The Collab has been working on 3D models and analyzing rock samples. They are “gearing up for their big experiments” next spring and they would like you to “stay tuned for lots more progress in the next few months.”

Shhh!

Meanwhile, the global energy company Enel is working on a cutting edge “binary cycle” plant in Utah, Google is looking to improve the technology for residential use under its Alphabet umbrella, and our friends over at GreenTech Media noticed that Bill Gates’s innovative Breakthrough Energy Ventures is expanding into geothermal and other clean teach from an initial focus on nuclear.

Researchers are also exploring the recovery of lithium from brine, which could help make geothermal more economical. Stay tuned for more on that from Dr. Prans Paranthaman of the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Follow me on Twitter.

Photo: SURF via US Department of Energy.

*As of this writing.


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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