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Google.org Invests More Than $10M in Enhanced Geothermal Systems

Googleegs
Google Earth map of US geothermal resources at 7.5 km depth. Click to enlarge.

Google, through its philanthropic arm Google.org, is investing US$10.25 million to advance the development of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology. The investment includes funding for research on next-generation geothermal resource mapping, EGS information tools, and a policy agenda for geothermal energy.

A 2007 MIT-led study of the potential for geothermal energy within the United States found that Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) technology could supply a substantial portion of US electricity well into the future, probably at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact. (Earlier post.) The panel estimated the total EGS resource base to be more than 13 million exajoules (EJ), with an estimated extractable portion to exceed 200,000 EJ—about 2,000 times the annual consumption of primary energy in the United States in 2005.

Altarock
Enhanced geothermal systems. Click to enlarge. Source: AltaRock

The study concluded that EGS can likely deliver cumulative capacity of more than 100,000 MWe within 50 years with a modest, multiyear federal investment for RD&D.

The traditional geothermal approach relies on finding naturally occurring pockets of steam and hot water. EGS, by contrast, recovers thermal energy contained in subsurface rocks by creating or accessing a system of open, connected fractures through which water can be circulated down injection wells, heated by contact with the rocks, and returned to the surface in production wells to form a closed loop.

EGS could be the “killer app” of the energy world. It has the potential to deliver vast quantities of power 24/7 and be captured nearly anywhere on the planet. And it would be a perfect complement to intermittent sources like solar and wind.

—Dan Reicher, Director of Climate and Energy Initiatives for Google.org

To advance EGS, Google.org announced funding for two companies and a university:

  • AltaRock Energy, Inc.: $6.25 million investment to develop innovative technologies to achieve significant cost reductions and improved performance in EGS projects.

  • Potter Drilling, Inc.: $4 million investment in two tranches, to develop new approaches to lower the cost and expand the range of deep hard rock drilling, a critical element to large-scale deployment of EGS.

  • Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab: $489,521 grant to improve understanding of the size and distribution of geothermal energy resources and to update geothermal mapping of North America.

Google’s Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative focuses on solar thermal power, advanced wind, EGS and other potential breakthrough technologies. Google has set a goal to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity, enough to power a city the size of San Francisco, in years, not decades. (Earlier post.)

Resources

Comments

Henry Gibson

Geothermal energy is the mistreated step child renewable electricty. Both solar cells and wind have diverted attention and money away from this source of reliable continuous source of energy. Whilst the generation of electricity by geothermal energy is not available everywhere, many kilowatts of thermal energy can be obtained almost anywhere with ground source heat pumps from deep wells. Geothermal may not actually be renewable in some locations, but it represents a source of heat untapped in most places. The hot dry rock experiments did not seem to work out for heating buildings in Los Alamos NM, but with new drilling techniques, there are many more places for geothermal.

Unfortunately, the co-production of metalic zinc was abandoned prematurely at a geothermal site near the Salton sea just before commodity prices were speculated to multiples of production costs.

Low temperatures and massive investments in the collection systems are partially shared by wind and solar and must be considered. ..HG..

Paul

I'm not too familiar with this process, but the diagram from AltaRock makes it seem like they're "pumping" steam out of the ground which seems incredibly inefficient. As any engineer knows, it's much easier to pump a liquid that to compress a gas. I have a hard-time seeing very much net energy generation from such a process.

Matthew

So how long until environmentalists start protesting geothermal energy, as they already do with most other forms of energy?

My guess is that they'll base their opposition on the notion that extracting the heat will cause the interior of the Earth to cool down, interfering with the generation of the planet's magnetic field. Since this magnetic protects us from charged particles coming in from space, geothermal energy is clearly just as bad as nuclear power.

Tripp

I doubt any real environmentalists would protest. As with wind and solar the environmental impacts are much smaller than traditional forms of energy production.

Joseph


You do have to be careful with Geothermal (pick the correct rocks) or you will cause an earthquake.

Kit P

The interesting thing about this long discussion, I am interested in safely producing energy with minimal environmental impact. Both renewable energy and nuclear succeed at doing that.

More green washing from Google! This is not a criticism of geothermal, HG hit the nail on the head. In the Google world of virtual reality, good graphics and outlandish claims are more important than practical ideas that actual work.

sssssssssss

In 2006, 26.5% of electricity generation in Iceland came from geothermal energy, 73.4% from hydro power, and 0.1% from fossil fuels. Geothermal is nothing new.

Kit P

@Trip

You are kidding, right?

“I doubt any real environmentalists would protest. As with wind and solar the environmental impacts are much smaller than traditional forms of energy production.”

First, Trip can not provide any LCA or EIS that supports his claim about environment impact. Second, real environmentalist are lawyers who work for environmental non-profits who sues the crap out of anyone who actually tries to produce energy.

danm

All this "environmentalist smashing". tsk, tsk, tsk.

If it were not for them you'd be breathing air like in Beijing.
Well, maybe that's what you'd prefer.

Matthew

If it were not for them you'd be breathing air like in Beijing.

Let me know when we can *really* clean the air by replacing coal power with nuclear.

HarveyD

danm:

You have an excellent point. The world needs environmentalists to keep heavy money making and careless socialist polluters in check. Other wise our cities could be 10 times worse than Beijing.

For those of you who do not believe it, take a quick trip to Pristina's airport (Khosovo) and try to breath the air when the nearby very cheap coal power plant is going full tilt. It can make Beijing feel like paradise.

Rob Weir

KitP...

"More Green washing from Google...In the Google world of virtual reality, good graphics and outlandish claims are more important than practical ideas that actually work"

I think Google's interest in virtual reality and good graphics, will shrink this world and expand new worlds in a similar way to energy based travel. Both real and virtual transportation being forms of communication.

Your criticism highlights those very features essential to a near future world where the experience gained in a virtual reality (think 3D video conference with sensory feedback) can genuinely substitute for the experiences we gain at the moment via personal transportation.

When you think about it the final result of a jet/car/ship based holiday experience is a bunch of memories. Memories which weigh nothing, and need not be gained in our 'real' world (my game playing sons certainly don't live 24/7 in any real world).


Herm

How are they dealing with the corrosive steam coming up from the wells?, how are they keeping the turbines from corroding?

Perhaps the key is to only use steam and not let the hot water come up. I hope they can generate useful power out of a facility, and not too much water is used.

tom deplume

The depths involved in EGS are around 25,000 to 30,000 feet which is at the very edge of current oil and gas well drilling technology. The cost for one well could be tens of millions of dollars. The ability to lower this cost is essential to the development of EGS.

mahonj

As we all know, google do maps, and do them well.

They should purchase and publish wind and solar maps for he whole globe as well at this.

If the google map of your house could tell you that you have X hours of sun/year, it might prompt people to add PV or Solar water heaters.

Better still, based on the insolation rate, they could recommend a solar solution - PV or water heater.

They could also recommend housing insulation specs based on local weather statistics.

There are lots and lots of things they could do with a couple of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.
[ Mapswise that is ... ]

stas peterson

Looking at the map, if you want a decent delta T, to produce power, you can choose to drill into about 5% of the USA. And bore a hole into a volcano along the "rim of fire" or the Super Volcano under the Yellowstone National Park.

I would think intruding on the National Park would be an environmental VERBOTTEN. Not to mention letting a sleeping monster lie.

As for drilling into a regular volcano, its just tempting fate and genuinely stupid.

So much for the solitary "practical" renewable, now that falling water has been redefined not to be renewable. Apprently rain has been outlawed, and rain water running off into rivers and then into reservoirs, is now officially a one-time and not renewable thing.

And the enviro-cranks wonder why there has not been many such geothermal efforts undertaken. It MUST be a Conspiracy by the Solar cell makers; or the Wind turbine monopolist manufacturers!

ejj

It is such a shame that widespread exploration of this energy isn't occuring like the other sexier forms of alternative energy.

Patrick Pettyjohn

I received an investment letter stating the Navy has geothermal power already developed at its Nevada site and that the technology will make a few companies very wealthy.

Tim

The process described by the image seems to be much less efficient than the Kalina cycle plant planned by Geodynamics who are making slow but steady progress on EGS in Australia.

In the Kalina cycle, the heated water is kept in a closed loop and pumped through a heat exchanger at the surface which then heats up a more volatile working fluid (like ammonia and water) for power generation.

There are several benefits to this approach:
- Impurities from the ground water don't go anywhere near the turbine as it's kept in a closed loop
- Power at the turbine is increased as the lower boiling point of the working fluid leads to increased pressure
- The closed loop of ground water can be kept under higher pressure, reducing the formation of steam and consequently making pumping more efficient.

ToppaTom

This foolishness is going to hasten the widespread realization that global warming is indeed a tragic misnomer. We are experiencing climate change in the form of warmer weather and the globe (earth) is actually cooling. This cooling is due in large part to irresponsible and uncontrolled extraction of heat by geothermal plants such as in Iceland. The consequences of global cooling will be the shrinkage of all land masses below sea level. All geothermal plants must include heat sequestering if the human race is to survive. Fortunately the sequestered heat will have great value in our energy starved world.

chessercat

Mahonj

http://www.wunderground.com

Their "wundermaps" use maps.google.com as a mashup, showing the radar and weather station data overlaid onto it.

They now have a "Solar Calculator," which can be accessed from the menu on the left. Put in your location, and it shows you how much sunlight your location gets. This is all based on NREL solar insolation data collected over the last 30+ years.

Why wait for Google to do it? Someone else is already there, if you know where to look.

ChesserCat

Luke

HarveyD: "If the google map of your house could tell you that you have X hours of sun/year, it might prompt people to add PV or Solar water heaters."

I think that is a fine idea but it also bears mentioning that that information is available on a NASA website http://eosweb.larc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/sse/grid.cgi?uid=3030 you have to create a username and password but the process painless.

That information is also available without a username/password on a website from a solar thermal collector manufacturer named Apricus http://www.apricus.com/html/insolation_levels_usa.htm

Though if google had maps with this information it would be nice.

Alain

ToppaTom, I suppose you are joking.

Alain

Paul,
As I see it, they pump cold water down, and let steam come up.

It could be even more productive :
they could keep the pressure high until the water is back into the powerplant. This supercritical water (liquid water at >647K and >218 bar) dissolves many metals as if they were sugar.
Then, a pressure drops in the powerplant, the water transforms to steam, to drive the turbine. The metals will immediately solidify.
Depending on the rock below, different metals will come up.
If the yield is high enough, it would be a very low-impact mining method as co-production of electricity.

Kit P

Guys, it is make believe. It can be anything you want it to be. If you are really good at make believe, you can create studies, and raise money from investors, the government, and other gullible folks.

Google's purpose is not produce clean energy, it is to impress the gullible. When you look at the technologies Google selects, the loonier the better. There is about 4000 MWe of legitimate geothermal under development per a press release issue this week. Nobody is talking about that. Loony is more interesting unless your goal is too accomplish something.

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