We now have the first serious potential in a generation to make geothermal energy a reality. We cannot afford to let it slip by.
Solar and wind energy seem to get most of the attention as alternative energies, but last week, President Obama announced $350 million of federal stimulus funds for geothermal energy that could be the impetus to make it a much more widely used resource.
The U.S. Dept. of Energy will allocate the funds into four strategic areas: geothermal demonstration projects ($140M); Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) research and development ($80M); innovative exploration techniques ($100M); and a National Geothermal Data System, Resource Assessment and Classification System ($30M).
The last significant federal funding for geothermal research in Arizona ended in 1983, as the nation lost interest in the years after the oil crisis of the 1970s. [right, geothermal energy potential in Arizona. Note the San Francisco volcanic field is overlooked. Credit, INEEL]
Arizona should be a major exploration target - we have some 60 plus hot springs, historic volcanism, Basin and Range crustal extension, and are surrounded by known and developed geothermal resources. But our hot springs mostly don't have the heat flow to foster electricity generation, and even geothermal heat pumps have failed to gain a foothold here because of perceptions that the environment is not conducive.
In the next few weeks, the Arizona geothermal community has the chance to put together a vision and plan to pursue federal stimulus funds for this untapped resource. It's been over a quarter century since we did it last and during that time we learned a lot more about all facets of geothermal energy, and the world is a lot different than it was then.