Geothermal has reached a critical point of momentum with lower risk: it’s not only a great complement for intermittent solar and wind, it’s just smart business. A recent publication by James Jackson Chief Business Development Officer at Thermal Energy Partners, points out the opportunities of this sector in the U.S.
Today, there are about 12 states producing electricity. With roughly 3,600 MW of geothermal power production coming from these 12 states, there is still another 30,000 MW of conventional resources yet to be tapped from developers. This is a huge opportunity for investors to deliver great returns, create more green jobs and generate “zero-emission” base-load electricity at a more competitive rate. Even though the conventional approach to geothermal development requires millions of “up-front” dollars of investment in exploration and test wells, there are now other ways to determine the suitability or longevity of heat resources at a lower cost and in a shorter timeframe.
Based on this approach, the number of states that can produce geothermal power has increased from 12 states to 42 states and can do so economically. This brings opportunity for new projects to many more places and to more types of customers than previously thought. Within a 42 state review, SMU’s Geothermal Research Laboratory has estimated 425,757 MW of additional geothermal power could be developed across the U.S. and Texas, for example, could produce 10% of that estimate. Texas’ first geothermal power (pilot) plant was operated in the early 90’s near Houston (by the Department of Energy and the University of Texas). Outcomes data from this pilot project is still being used today to measure the resources in this state.
Newer techniques (utilizing algorithms) to measure geothermal resources is being used to map other locations around the world to increase investor confidence. From the standpoint of a utility or a large energy user in an underserved market, this is great news. When the sun no longer shines or the wind stops blowing, grid operators rely on fossil fuel sources of power to supplement and balance the load in order to keep transmitting a constant electricity. Now, grid operators are looking more and more to geothermal as a strong renewable compliment to solar or wind. Utilities have found that geothermal possesses the attributes of a base-load resource and comes with zero carbon emissions.
Based on these advancements along with other oil & gas technology developments, the risk to capital investment is much lower now more than ever for geothermal projects. The U.S. and many other countries (with mapped geothermal resources) stand only to gain from these new developments to take advantage of this renewable resource that is not reliant on subsidies to be economical.
Source: Thermal Energy Partners