Monday, May 31, 2010

New enthusiasm for geothermal energy

It's hard to understand why geothermal gets overlooked so often in the discussion of renewable energy. It runs 24/7, produces almost no emissions, and is economically competitive with traditional energy sources. But time after time, public discussions list solar, wind, and biofuels only. Charles Baron from Google noted that YouTube videos labelled 'geothermal' were uploaded 4,500 times, compared to 70-80,000 for solar and wind, and 209,000 for 'dancing babies.'

That may be changing. We attended the DOE Geothermal Technology Program Peer Review in the DC area recently and were astounded at the breadth of research, innovation, success stories, and overall enthusiasm in the geothermal community. DOE has 200 externally funded projects in the queue (including our work to build, deploy, and populate the National Geothermal Data System). Industry and local communities are pouring matching funds into the pot to leverage the one-time federal monies coming from the stimulus package.

Worldwide, 10,000 MW of geothermal produced electricity is meeting the needs of 52 million people. DOE official Steve Chalk said there is 3 GW of geothermal electricity producing today in the US with 7 GW of new production in the construction pipeline.

But the big news is the expansion of geothermal from traditional utility hydrothermal power production to small, distributed low-temperature resources. This includes projects like Chena Hot Springs (Alaska) production of electricity from 165F water using a binary power plant [right, Credit, Chena Hot Springs]. Resort owner Bernie Karl has become a legend in the industry for pioneering this use of low temperature water.

There was $274 million of new financing for geothermal energy in the 1st quarter of 2010 and more companies are moving into the market place, including Siemens who will manufacture geothermal turbines.

I could go on with lots of examples from the many pages of notes I took from the presentations and discussions, but I'll do that with some later posts.

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