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

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.)



John L.

@mahonj: "As we all know, google do maps, and do them well.

They should purchase and publish wind and solar maps for [t]he whole globe as well a[s] 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."

Here's exactly that map, from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:


If you live in a place where the mean insolation exceeds 7 kWh/sq.m/day, and you are not contending with any local shadows, solar PV has a fairly short return on investment, under 15 years without subsidies.

stas peterson

@Trip, @ Matt,

You are the people who vote for the the leftist clowns that made the East bloc an environmental cesspool and China a eco-disaster.

Capitalist countries with distributed political and economic power, are much cleaner environments than any statist country. People with money and power object to breathing bad air, and they have the muscle to demand its cleanup.

Solar has enormous and very grave environmental problems.

It reduces the Albedo increasing Warming about 10 times worse than the worst hypothesized GHGs.

Used on a large scale, it wrecks the local climate and would kill many a species.

Finally it very inefficiency means we waste lots of resources building it, compared to other alternatives.

And worst of all it produces massive Thermal Pollution.

Its EIS is so bad that eco-true believers are trying to put a by-pass in the EPA, to allow such projects to NOT HAVE TO FILE for an Environmental Impact Statement. As large solar installations would never have a prayer of obtaining an approved EIS. What does that tell you?

Thankfully solar is so uneconomic, that not much has been built, as yet, so the problems are as yet only mildly percieved by the population as a whole.

Kit P

“Solar has enormous and very grave environmental problems.”

This about as silly as those who claim solar is good for the environment. Based on all the LCA I have read, done right solar is about the same nuclear. When you do solar like Google by putting them on their Mountain View roof, it is about the same as coal.

The main difference between geothermal and solar, solar is not a very good way to make electricity at night.


Google, Australia give big boost to geothermal energy
August 20, 2008

Geothermal energy got a big boost this week with Google and the Australian government announcing multi-million initiatives that make use of Earth's heat as a clean and renewable source of power.

Tuesday Google.org, the philanthropic arm of search giant Google, said it will invest $10 million in "enhanced geothermal systems" (EGS) to improve the potential of geothermal energy, which harnesses the heat of Earth's core to generate power. The EGS process works by effectively mimicking a geyser. Water is pumped through holes drilled into the hot rock deep below Earth's surface. The resulting heated water and steam is then used produce electricity in a conventional turbine. A study published this past January by MIT researchers estimated that just 2 percent of the heat below the continental United States between 3 and 10 kilometers deep is more than 2,500 times the country's total annual energy

Courtesy of Google Earth

Australia's investment

At nearly the same time as Google's announcement, Australia's government announced AU$50 million ($43 million) in funding for the geothermal industry to help make the technology viable for base-load energy production.

"The potential of the geothermal industry in Australia is truly staggering. Geoscience Australia estimates that if just one percent of Australia's geothermal energy was extracted, it would equate to 26,000 times Australia's total annual energy consumption," Martin Ferguson, Australia's Minister for Resources and Energy, said. "Geothermal energy provides clean base-load power and is potentially a very important contributor to Australia's energy mix in a carbon-constrained world."

"We could now see Australia's first commercially viable geothermal power plants in place within four to five years."

The Australian government has set a target for 20 percent of the country's electricity generation to come from renewable sources by 2020


Yes I was joking. I apologize. After the sarcasm of Martin Ferguson, I know I should just read and learn;
"The potential of .. geothermal .. is .... just one percent of Australia's geothermal energy .. equate to 26,000 times .. [Australia’s] total annual energy consumption," .

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