- Nevada exploring geothermal’s potential for electricity, heating
- Cost, risk impede development
By Brenna Goth, July 15, 2019 06:01AM ET, Bloomberg Law.
Read the full story here: Earth’s Heat Gives States Another Option for Clean Energy Goals.
“Tapping heat beneath the
Earth’s surface for electricity and other uses is gaining ground among policy
makers, especially out West, as states seek to expand their options for meeting
more aggressive renewable energy goals.
Geothermal energy’s promise
lies in its ability to constantly produce power with limited environmental
impacts, unlike resources such as wind or solar that are weather-dependent and
have other challenges.
It also has the potential
“to power the global electric grid many times over” with a nearly unlimited
supply, Susan G. Hamm, director of the Energy Department’s geothermal
technologies office, says in the introduction to its analysis on the subject.
While geothermal energy
represents a small fraction of the power used in the U.S., production could
increase by more than 26 times over roughly three decades with the right
technology and policy changes, the analysis said. But the risk and cost of
developing new projects could hamper the industry’s growth.
One major state player,
Nevada, wants to tackle those issues as its utilities move toward getting half
their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
A new initiative in the
state, which is second only to California in U.S. geothermal electricity
generation, directs lawmakers to audit geothermal potential and propose changes
that could boost the resource.
for geothermal projects vary by technology and include water use, greenhouse
gas emissions higher than for wind or solar, and seismic hazards. Utilities,
though, face few choices for energy sources that both meet their climate change
goals and can stabilize the grid, said Paul Thomsen, vice president of business
development for the Americas at renewable energy company Ormat Technologies.
“This renewable resource
really is a problem solver,” said Thomsen, who also chairs the Geothermal
Resources Council policy committee.
Nevada Resort Shows Potential
Nevada is taking a broad
approach to analyzing its geothermal potential and impediments. Policy
proposals will go to the Legislature for approval.
Lawmakers and researchers
will weigh how to map geothermal resources, and the necessary technology and
financial support to use them. They will consider applications like using
geothermal directly to heat public buildings, and figure out how to integrate
the power source with the solar, mining, and lithium industries.
Increasing geothermal use is a matter of national
security for state Sen. Pat Spearman (D), who sponsored the initiative.
Breaking reliance on foreign oil became a priority following her military
career, she said.
“I need the experts working on this with me,” Spearman
Some state leaders see potential in a Reno resort’s
use of geothermal for heating, which can use underground water at lower
temperatures than are needed to produce electricity. The 1,621-room Peppermill
Resort Spa Casino produces all of its own heat from its onsite geothermal
Geothermal use at the property dates back to the
1970s. A 4,400-foot-deep production well drilled more than a decade ago
replaced boilers and now saves the property $2.2 million per year on its
natural gas bills, according to Peppermill representatives. Its carbon dioxide
emissions also decreased by 12,000 metric tons per year.
“We were on a known aquifer. So we knew the water was down there and we were able to utilize it,” said John Kassai, the resort’s central plant and geothermal engineering manager.
Risk Reduction, Faster Permitting on Table
Market demand for geothermal is increasing with higher
state renewable energy requirements, particularly in places awash with solar,
said Thomsen, from the Geothermal Resources Council. The Department of Energy
is among agencies looking at how to make development cheaper and faster.
Exploring and developing resources deep underground
poses unique challenges. Permitting and land access issues can also increase
cost and project length.
The geothermal industry doesn’t have the research and
development budget to address those issues, Thomsen said. Legislation proposed
in Congress seeks to help, as does federally-funded research.
A project out of Nevada aims to reduce the risk of
geothermal exploration to make the energy more economical, said James Faulds,
director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology at the University of Nevada,
Reno, that is leading the Energy Department-funded research.
Most geothermal resources are “blind”—they don’t have
hot springs or other signs at the surface, said Faulds, who is also a professor
at the University of Nevada, Reno.
The research looks at multiple characteristics of known geothermal systems, including fault locations, to find patterns that can indicate potential new resources. The goal is to make it quicker and cheaper to find and drill undiscovered systems; Industry would be responsible for actually developing the resource. Recent exploratory drilling at two areas the research identified found new geothermal systems. That result is an “enormous success” and shows promise for reducing risk, according to a statement from the Energy Department’s Geothermal Technologies Office.
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