|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.
|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.)