Geothermal: An Underrated Climate Solution

Like solar thermal power, geothermal power is too often neglected. Indeed, the Bush administration has proposed zeroing out the geothermal energy program for two years running.

But a major 2007 study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, “The Future of Geothermal Energy” (a 372-page PDF) reveals the potential if we redouble our efforts toward this zero-carbon power source. The MIT-led panel of scientists, economic experts, and engineers found that Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) that use “heat-mining technology, which is designed to extract and utilize the earth’s stored thermal energy” could contribute 10% of baseload power by mid-century:

The panel thinks that with a combined public/private investment of about $800 million to $1 billion over a 15-year period, EGS technology could be deployed commercially on a timescale that would produce more than 100,000 MWe or 100 GWe of new capacity by 2050. This amount is approximately equivalent to the total R&D investment made in the past 30 years to EGS internationally, which is still less than the cost of a single, new-generation, clean-coal power plant.


Technology Review has a nice summary piece here. And you can find a lot more about geothermal here.

4 Responses to Geothermal: An Underrated Climate Solution

  1. MikeB says:

    I agree that Geothermal Power is neglected, which is a shame. I’d definitely like to see it considered along with Solar and Wind as a good choice for green energy.

    I think you might also mention the advantages of another style of Geothermal, the Geothermal Heat Pump: where you exchange heat with the constant temperature ground rather than the air for your HVAC needs. Geothermal Heat Pumps can be more than twice as efficient at both heating and cooling homes and businesses, though higher installation costs push the payback out several years. Given how much power we use on heating & cooling, greater adoption of this type of technology could have a huge net impact.

  2. Dan-G says:

    My residential geothermal heat pump comes out only
    slightly cheaper than than LP gas in heating but for
    cooling it is almost 1/3 the cost of typical air exchange
    whole house air conditioning. Imagine if all air conditioners
    ran on this principle. It saves so much on peak electricity
    generation that my power supplier gives me a lower electric
    rate because of my heat pump.

    Payout was originally calculated to be at 12 years but due to
    rising cost of LP gas I believe it has paid off much sooner.

  3. Using geothermal energy from deep in the earth can be dangerous, as the Swiss recently learned, when a geothermal power plant in Basel triggered an earthquake.

    I had long suspected that earthquakes might be an issue with geothermal power. (I took a freshman geology class, so I am an expert.) Over most of the United States, the hot rocks are three of four miles down, so drilling is going to be expensive. As you withdrawal heat from the earth, you will have to move your hole. So we have the problem of geological instability, and uncertain expense connected with geothermal power. In places volcanic areas like California and Iceland, geothermal works, but i do think that geothermal power is not popular in Basel at the moment. We need far more research, and experimentation befre we bet on geothermal.

  4. Gary Abraham says:

    Too bad we didn’t heed advice like Mr. Barton’s for wind. Now we know it runs on no better than 20% capacity factor (so divide megawatts generated as asserted by the industry by 5) and produces least during summer days when need most, and produces most (winter nights) when needed least. That’s why a generation of experience with wind in Europe has yet to displace a single conventional power plant. And there, more densely populated than the U.S., policy is increasingly moving toward off-shore siting to avoid nuisance noise impacts on people. A 60-turbine wind farfm slices through 10,000 acres on average, compared to