US Geothermal Power Could Top 10 Gigawatts, New Industry Report Says
30 September 2009
A new report by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) shows strong growth in new geothermal power projects continuing through 2009. US Geothermal Power Production and Development Update, September 2009 identifies 144 new geothermal projects under development in fourteen states that could represent as much as 7,100 MW of new baseload power capacity. When added to the 3,100 MW of existing capacity, 10 gigawatts of geothermal power appears to be feasible.
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The report found a total of 144 projects under development that could add between 4,699.9 and 7,109.9 MW of power to the US geothermal energy output. At the high end, that would be enough baseload power to supply about 20% of California's total electric power in 2008—or enough generating capacity to supply the power needs of about 7.2 million people.
The number of states with geothermal projects under development also increased, from 12 to 14 over the past six months, with the addition of two oil-field co-production projects in Louisiana and Mississippi.
While the report shows generally good news, it also shows a decline in projects currently listed as under construction. According to the GEA this was due to 4 new geothermal power projects moving to completion, but also reflects difficulty obtaining final permits and difficulty obtaining financing. The recession, as the report confirms, is having an impact on the industry, according to the GEA.
Financing is expensive and scarce, and available lenders are requiring much more work be done before they will finance projects. We hope the tax, loan guarantee, and DOE spending provisions of the stimulus bill will help turn this around, but there have been delays implementing these initiatives by the federal agencies.
It also appears that some projects seeking final construction permits are having difficulty acquiring them because of the tremendous demands being placed on federal, state, and local agencies by a wave of renewable energy project applications. These geothermal projects would otherwise be ready to go bringing new jobs and spurring economic growth, so it’s important that federal and state agencies don’t neglect the needs of geothermal projects.— Karl Gawell, Executive Director of GEA
I think one of the biggest tragedies of the entire renewable energy movement is the shameful near lack of attention geothermal energy has received. It's an extremely clean, domestic, terrorist-resistant source of energy with an incredible amount of potential for America, particularly across the western states. Perhaps it doesn't get as much attention because of the "jobs per megawatt" factor; development, construction, operation & retirement of a nuclear power plant creates many more jobs (across more state lines)per megawatt than geothermal projects ever would.
Posted by: ejj | 30 September 2009 at 05:21 AM
As I understand, Geothermal Power power is only economically doable in some areas. Corrosion makes deep drilling and bore maintenance unfeasible.
Is that misinformed?
Posted by: kelly | 30 September 2009 at 05:30 AM
6.9 GW with 100% utilization is about 60 TWh per year. To put that in perspective, 2008 yielded about 52 TWh of wind power.
Furthermore, the elegance of geothermal is that it can be used as baseload. These plants in CA, NV, and OR+WA can be used to turn off some coal fired power plants nearby. Good stuff.
Posted by: stomv | 30 September 2009 at 06:05 AM
What is elegant about baseload? 'Baseload' is a term for energy generators that generate constant power and are hard to throttle (like coal/nuclear). Actually baseload power generator is an inferior type. You need power that can follow demand.
I think the elegance of geothermal is that it can follow load. You build the plant too big. If used as baseload, that would eventually deplete the source. But if you throttle it to balance other renewable power sources, you only have to be sure that the average heat extracted is low enough to prevent depletion. Hybrid geothermal/solar plants that utilize this concept have already been proposed.
Posted by: Arne | 30 September 2009 at 06:27 AM
Kelly, you are absolutely right, geothermal seems like a energy bonanza, but attempts to tap it has proven deceptive, the challenges are in fact tremendous, and even the most enthusiastic supporters of this energy have cool down their hopes. Corrosion due to sulfur is alomost a showstopper. It will be used but we will have to way that energy becomes more expensive.
Posted by: Treehugger | 30 September 2009 at 08:48 AM
Coal fired power plants have been, can be, and are built to be able to reduce power output significantly and reduce the consumption of fuel as well. Most of them can reduce their power output to almost nothing if scheduled in advance. All of them could be cheaply modified to operate from zero power output, but not stopped, to full power in a few minutes. They operate at good efficiency when partially powered down but not at the highest efficiency. They are still cheaper to run than natural gas turbines. This flexibility is the main reason in the US, and Denmark and Germany even, why wind turbines can be connected into the grid.
Nuclear power plants can also be cheaply modified to operate at a full range of power output to the grid, but nuclear fuel is so cheap and capital costs so high it is more economical to run them at the highest possible power level. On the other hand the Nuclear power industry is making a reliability mistake by building larger and larger single reactor power plants.
Geothermal energy is widely available, but the question is; is it economical to collect and use it. Another question is; should we destroy these natural features of the earth to use the energy. It could be far cheaper to move into Yellowstone Park with massive geothermal power equipment than to go to Arizona deserts with Solar power equipment. Why are Arizona deserts not more sacred than the natural disaster area that is Yellowstone. We would not even be covering much of the ground with geothermal collectors, just a hole here and there. The facilities could be buried and the exhausts made to look like natural steam releases. Or they could be on the bottom of lakes with no visual presence at all.
If Hyperion Power Generation got as much funding as geothermal and wind turbines, their reactors would become real and we could just bury one or two where ever we wished to pretend that there was geothermal energy.
If I had Warren Buffet's money and his management skills, I would put Hyperion units along the Baha California coast and run undersea cables directly to Los Angeles and San Diego and sell expensive power to the people who have been duped into buying it already by ENRON and its remnants. There would not need to be a single visible sign of such units. ..HG..
Posted by: Henry Gibson | 30 September 2009 at 12:35 PM
Baseload doesn't have to be hard to throttle. Baseload is simply the maximum amount of electricity needed to satisfy demand 24x7x365.
The elegance is twofold:
1. Because it can be run 24x7, you get the most output per capital input -- making the cost of delivering geothermal electricity cheaper (and, implicitly, the cost of delivering coal/gas/oil electricity more expensive).
2. If it can be slightly overbuilt (if depleating the heat resource is a legit concern), then you can combine it with intermittent sources like wind to create a larger renewable, reliable baseload. For example, if you know you'll get a minimum 1,000 MWh/week from wind with Pr[.99] and your geothermal is capable of 5,000 MWh/week but can actually have an instantaneous output rate of 6,000 MW, then you can actually claim baseload of 6,000 MWh/week with Pr[.99] because you crank up the geothermal when the wind isn't blowing, but dial it back when the wind is blowing, allowing you to treat the intermittent wind power with a certainty. Any output above the 1,000 MWh/week from wind is "bonus", but right now 100% of that wind output is "bonus" and not relied upon -- and therefore not worth as much.
Wind's intermittent nature devalues it's output; combining it with a renewable reliable source that can be tempered allows accounting some wind as reliable -- thereby increasing it's value.
Currently wind tends to be effectively partnered with natural gas; when the wind blows we burn less gas. That's good, but it would be far better to burn less coal. By partnering wind with geothermal, we could burn less coal instead of less gas, and that's a better outcome... and an elegant one.
Posted by: stomv | 01 October 2009 at 09:02 AM
Combined cycle running biomethane along with geothermal, wind, solar and other renewable sources can reduce coal usage and carbon emissions. It is all possible and proven, the challenge is in actually DOING it.
Posted by: SJC | 01 October 2009 at 09:50 AM
@ Anne, SJC, Stormv,
The ideal would be to have clean baseload and clean peak power sources. Given the intermittent qualities of wind and photovoltaic, we also need "instantly-available" capacity, which thus far coal, nuclear, and geothermal seem ill-suited to provide. Natural gas plants (common in California) are pretty good at quickly adapting to spikes in demand (or drops in wind and sun). Hydro, on the other hand, is awesome at handling demand spikes. By opening a (very large) valve, hydro can add gigawatts in seconds.
Just looking at the West Coast, it seems like the ideal formula is some geothermal for baseload, wind and solar when they are available (particularly during peak demand afternoons), and using natural gas and hydro to smooth the curve. Ideally, hydro would be used scarcely enough to let the largest resevoirs refill. Washington State would get solar from California, and give back Hydro as needed.
Posted by: HealthyBreeze | 01 October 2009 at 04:35 PM