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Geothermal energy in US grew 5% in 2012; California the leader

15 February 2013

Preliminary industry data reveals that year-end geothermal growth in 2012 was up 5% from the previous year, according to the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA). This uptick in development— representing 147.05 MW of new gross online geothermal capacity—is due in part to pioneering developments in geothermal technology, GEA said.

In 2012, seven new geothermal projects and additions came online in three different states. This represents the second highest increase in geothermal power capacity over a calendar year since the production tax credit (PTC) was extended to geothermal in 2005, and a 5% percent increase over 2011 year-end data. Projects and new additions that came online in 2012 include:

  • John L. Featherstone Plant (CA): Energy Source, 49.9 MW
  • McGinness Hills (NV): Ormat, 30 MW
  • Neal Hot Springs (OR): U.S. Geothermal, 30.1 MW
  • San Emidio I (NV): U.S. Geothermal, 12.75 MW
  • Tuscarora (NV): Ormat, 18 MW
  • Dixie Valley I (NV): Terra-Gen, 6.2 MW
  • Florida Canyon Mine (NV): ElectraTherm, 0.1 MW

In addition to these seven projects, GEA identified 13 geothermal companies with projects in stage 3 or 4 of development. Some of these projects are expected to come online in 2013.

Outside of a few Western States, utility-scale geothermal may be considered a more limited energy source than some other renewable technologies, but that is changing. Geothermal power is expanding across the Western half of the country, and new scientific and technological advancements offering the opportunity to produce geothermal power from Hawaii and Alaska to Texas and the Gulf States, with the ultimate potential being generating electrical power in nearly every state.

—GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell

According to the EIA, geothermal energy accounts for about 3.5% of renewable energy generation in the United States, with geothermal plants and small power units online in nine states including California, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Preliminary results show that California now has more than 2,700 MW of installed geothermal capacity, more than any other US state or world country.

Year-end data also shows that Nevada, the nation’s second leading geothermal capacity state behind California, now has more than 500 MW of installed capacity. In 2012, Enel Green Power’s Stillwater Geothermal Power Plant was commissioned in the Silver State, becoming the country’s first hybrid solar-geothermal project. This project along with others, such as the first co-production of geothermal power at Nevada’s Florida Canyon gold mine, exemplify the many ways that innovative new technologies are thrusting the geothermal industry forward in key US markets.

One of the newest geothermal technologies taking hold is enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) technology. EGS involves extracting heat from engineered reservoirs through fluid injection into deeper hotter rock, and represents the opportunity to tap into geothermal potential worldwide. The US Department of Energy has invested roughly $37.5 million into EGS projects in California since the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009.

A 2010 Southern Methodist University study showed EGS technology broadens geothermal potential across the US to nearly 3 million MW—a near 40-fold increase compared to traditional geothermal technology potential.

Collaborative research between UT Austin Bureau of Economic Geology and SMU Geothermal Laboratory has advanced the understanding of in-situ unconventional reservoir thermal capacity and longevity within the Texas oil and gas fields. The extraction quantities are greater than previously stated and the estimated economics reduce the pricing to below 10 cents/kw-hr with use of existing well sites. Next steps are to prove the reservoir flow rates and longevity. The current Texas legislature session includes geothermal energy related bills, as the legislators understand that geothermal energy development will be realized in the state.

—David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Physics, SMU

GEA will release its annual development report at the State of the Geothermal Energy Industry Briefing on 26 February in Washington.

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