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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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U.S. Geothermal Capacity Set To Grow by 1,900% by 2050

  • The U.S. Department of Energy has invested $60 million in funding for three enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) projects.
  • EGS can access heat stored underground and convert it into renewable energy, potentially doubling the amount of recoverable geothermal energy in the US.
  • Climate policies and increased funding for green energy projects are driving the rapid growth of lesser-recognized renewable energy sources like geothermal power.

Governments around the globe are exploring innovative ways to produce cleaner energy that will help decrease the overreliance on polluting fossil fuels. This ranges from more traditional green energy, such as solar and wind power, to less common options like tidal and geothermal power. As part of its aim to undergo a green transition, the U.S. government recently unlocked millions in funding to develop the country’s geothermal potential, after years of pressure from the industry. 

Scientists worldwide have long hailed geothermal energy for its potential to provide vast amounts of clean power with little impact on the environment. Geothermal energy operations are nothing new, but they are limited to certain parts of the world and have not run at their full potential in the past due to the non-existence of the equipment needed to access the extreme heat in the Earth’s crust. Geothermal sources have been used for hundreds of years, but, until recently, the amount of energy retrieved from geothermal operations was severely limited. However, thanks to greater investment in research and development in the sector, the equipment required to access this energy now exists. 

Previously, geothermal resources could only be accessed in areas where heat sources were available close to the Earth’s surface, such as in hot springs and geysers. Hot water and steam in various sites around the globe have long been used to drive turbines and generate electricity. Thanks to greater funding for geothermal technology, scientists have recently developed enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) that can be used to access heat in hard-to-reach places. EGS works by injecting water at a high pressure into deep rocks to re-open natural fractures that have closed over time, allowing hot water or steam to flow into extraction wells. The continuous injection of water allows these fractures to stay open and the water to be heated and extracted to generate electricity. 

In March, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) announced it would be investing $60 million in funding to demonstrate the efficacy and scalability of EGS. These systems will be used to access heat stored underground to be used as renewable energy.  The DoE said that the funds would be awarded to three projects – Chevron New Energies, Fervo Energy, and Mazama Energy. At present, geothermal energy contributes less than one percent of U.S. electricity, but that is all expected to change in the coming years. EGS could more than double the amount of recoverable geothermal energy in the U.S. and extend the life of existing geothermal sites. 

Chevron will run a pilot project, which will roll out new drilling and stimulation techniques to access geothermal heat at a site in Sonoma County, California. The aim is to eventually develop 600 MW of incremental geothermal capacity, with initial projects expected to provide 60 MW. The pilot phase will test the viability of new geothermal technologies, aiming to achieve low water use, flexible output, and methods for shrinking the surface footprint.

Fervo plans to develop its geothermal assets in the Milford Renewable Energy Corridor in Utah. The DoE’s Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) is located in the same corridor. Fervo expects to produce a minimum of 8 MW of clean energy from each of the three wells. Last month, Fervo announced plans to develop its Cape Station plant, which is expected to begin producing 90 MW of power by 2026 and up to 400 MW by 2028. Chelsea Anderson, the strategic communications specialist for Fervo, stated, “Were it not for transmission limitations, Cape Station could supply even more power… We believe that Cape has at least 2 gigawatts of geothermal potential.”

Meanwhile, Mazama will invest in research and development to advance the science required to carry out operations in extremely hot environments. Mazama’s project will demonstrate a first-of-its-kind super-hot EGS, with temperatures above 375°C, on the western side of Newberry Volcano in Oregon.

Amanda Kolker, the geothermal laboratory programme manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), emphasised the significant potential of developing the country’s geothermal resources. She stated, “Geothermal has been used for over 100 years, limited to certain geographic locations – but that is now changing… As we penetrate the grid with renewables that are not available all the time, we need to find a base load, which is currently taken up by gas. There aren’t really many options for zero-emissions baseload power, which is why geothermal is entering the picture.”

Thanks to recent climate policies that offer greater funding to green energy projects, such as the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, there is great optimism around the rapid growth of lesser-recognised renewable energy sources. Further, it is thought that the U.S. geothermal capacity could grow by around 20-fold by 2050, providing as much as 10% of the country’s electricity. 

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com 


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