Earth’s Heat Gives States Another Option for Clean Energy Goals

  • 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.

Environmental considerations 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 said.

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 plant.

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.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Brenna Goth in Phoenix at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Gregory Henderson at;
Susan Bruninga at;
Anna Yukhananov at

Meet the Geothermal Energy Center’s new director: Bridget Ayling took over the director position at the GBCGE last spring


News from Nevada Today
Article by Michael Olinger, Nevada Today, 1/3/2017

“The Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy got a new director last spring, and she travelled a long road to get to her new post.

Bridget Ayling was born in New Zealand. She has worked in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Antarctica.

“I think I’ve been really lucky to travel to some amazing places just through my job, you know, and get to some pretty rugged places to do science,” Ayling said. “Everywhere you go, every country you go to, it’s a new landscape.”Bridget Ayling

The high desert of the Great Basin is the latest landscape to welcome Ayling, who has been interested in geology from a young age. Early fascination with limestone rocks and the fossils contained therein was met with encouragement by her parents, who fostered it with the gift of numerous books.

Ayling has spent over a decade working in the geothermal energy sector, most of that time for the Australian government. After dabbling briefly in the oil and gas industries, she saw the post at the GBCGE as a unique chance to get back into the geothermal work that she loves.

“Nevada is a state that has many geothermal resources,” Ayling said. “We’re really richly endowed with geothermal.”

Since her arrival at the University, Ayling has been hard at work on a number of projects, such as reviving the National Geothermal Academy, which operated on campus from 2011 to 2014 before going dormant for the last two years. The academy is a summer program where students spend time studying drilling and reservoir engineering for geothermal energy. She is also a member of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.

Additionally, Ayling has been working on the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (or FORGE) project, a Department of Energy initiative seeking to develop a field test site for geothermal system technology development and testing. A site in Fallon was one of five potential test sites initially chosen by the DOE, who narrowed their options to two in September, with Fallon being one of those sites. Ayling and the GBCGE are currently waiting to see if their site is the one ultimately chosen by the DOE.

As of the fall semester, Ayling has not taught any classes, but that is set to change in the spring. Ayling’s class, Geology 407/607, will focus on Earth’s energy resources. She describes it as “a pretty ‘big picture’ course.”

She is also working to set up her own independent research that will shape the center.

“It takes time to build a team and have visions for what it can be in the future,” Ayling said. “It’s going to take time to realize that and actually get the funding to support it. It’s fairly small, and my key areas so far have been doing a fair bit of outreach, so doing talks at public forums, like the Geological Society of Nevada. I’ve talked up at the Desert Research Institute. Conference talks, that kind of thing. So, a bit of outreach to raise awareness that we have a center. It exists, and I’m here, and hopefully going to take it to some pretty cool places.”

University research professor Jim Faulds, a colleague of Ayling, is very happy about the work that she has done so far, and the work that lays ahead.

“She has hit the ground running at the University and is already pursuing many new opportunities in geothermal research that will earn enormous rewards for the state and Great Basin region,” Faulds said.

Ayling shares Faulds’ enthusiasm.

“The Great Basin Center is an exciting place to be,” she said. “I think to be here in Reno and to be director of the center is great.”

Outdoor Nevada on PBS—Jim Faulds on Geothermal Activity

Outdoor Nevada on PBS—Jim Faulds on Geothermal Activity now posted

The Outdoor Nevada episode that aired on March 23, 2016 on the Las Vegas PBS station featured geothermal activity in Nevada, with segments on both the geology and biology of these systems.

NBMG Director and State Geologist Dr. Jim Faulds teamed with UNLV microbiologist Dr. Brian Hedlund[] for this presentation.

This show has now been posted, and you can watch it here (Episode 7):

Outdoor Nevada on PBS—Jim Faulds on Geothermal Activity, March 23, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.


The Outdoor Nevada episode airing on March 23, 2016 on the Las Vegas PBS station will feature geothermal activity in Nevada, with segments on both the geology and biology of these systems.

NBMG Director and State Geologist Dr. Jim Faulds will team with UNLV microbiologist Dr. Brian Hedlund[] for this presentation.

You can watch this episode Wednesday March 23 at 7:30 p.m. on Vegas PBS Channel 10. In the next couple of months, the show will air on KNPB for northern Nevada as well.

The link will be available on their website the day the show broadcasts. We will also send that link in our next email.

Outdoor Nevada website:[]

“Hosted by highly regarded television host and actor John Burke, Outdoor Nevada will delve into the Silver State’s natural history and present-day happenings as experts discuss awe-inspiring discoveries in one of the planet’s most unique and often extreme environments.”

Past episodes of Outdoor Nevada:[][]

Provost Kevin Carman Interview with Jim Faulds: Friday March 4—posted online at KUNR on March 7


The Kevin Carman/Jim Faulds interview aired Friday, March 4 and has now been posted online at KUNR 88.7 FM, so you can listen to it at your convenience. Listen to the KUNR broadcast interview from 3-4-16 here.

University Research Key to Realizing Nevada’s Geothermal Potential
By David Stipech, KUNR

“Nevada is known as the Silver State, but as a geological treasure, that doesn’t begin to capture Nevada’s richness that ranges from its vast untapped geothermal energy to leading in gold and lithium production.

Current geological research in the state, the future outlook for geothermal energy, and Nevada’s worldwide impact were among the subjects of the University Spotlight on KUNR’s Beyond the Headlines. Guests included Jim Faulds, research professor and director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology and State Geologist, with University of Nevada, Reno Provost Kevin Carman (air date: 3-4-16; interviewed by David Stipech)…

Dr. Faulds’ work is central to the state of Nevada’s efforts to harness geothermal energy sources. In particular, his research is playing a key role in a project that holds the potential to unlock massive new resources of power generated from geothermal energy. As director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, Dr. Faulds leads statewide outreach efforts in the state’s understanding of tectonics and structural geology of the Great Basin. An accomplished mapper, Dr. Faulds has integrated detailed geologic mapping into nearly all of his work, which has had direct applications to earthquake hazards, industrial minerals, metallic ore deposits and geothermal resources. His studies through the University have been widely published and his geothermal research has helped innovate the field by developing more sophisticated and complex exploration strategies that can be used by the geothermal industry for geothermal systems.

The Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, a public service department of the University’s College of Science, provides analysis of Nevada geology to better understand the resources and hazards of the area. Dr. Faulds’ research is also providing geologic modeling for an innovative U.S. Department of Energy initiative, called FORGE. These Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy sites, one of which is located near Fallon – hold the potential to unlock massive new resources of power generated from geothermal sources. The FORGE sites provide the geothermal community with a field laboratory where the science and engineering needed for widespread commercialization of EGS, or Enhanced Geothermal Systems, can be developed and refined. Ultimately, this work will lead to making geothermal a much more commercially viable energy source for the state.

Dr. Faulds bested more than 100 other scientists from around the country and received top honors from the Department of Energy for his work on geothermal energy technology, earning the 2012 Peer Review Excellence award with his project, “Characterizing Structural Controls of EGS and Conventional Geothermal Reservoirs.” He received perfect scores across all categories.

Dr. Faulds was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America for his work on tectonics and structural geology. He first came to love geology as a child watching ice on lakes break up during springtime and collide with one another. He turned his interest toward the Earth’s crust and began studying geology. He began teaching at the University for the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology in 1997 and became the director in 2012.”

For more information on geothermal energy from NBMG, please click here.

Jim Faulds to serve as panelist at congressional briefing on geothermal energy

Jim Faulds, NBMG Director and State Geologist, will be serving as a panelist at a congressional briefing on geothermal energy: Geothermal Featured in Energy-Water-Land Connections Briefing Series.

“As part of the “Energy from the Earth: Energy-Water-Land Connections” briefing series, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power, Doug Hollett, will moderate a panel on recent successes in geothermal research on September 15, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.

Panelists include University of Nevada’s Research Professor, Jim Faulds; National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Energy and Environmental Analyst, Jordan Macknick; and the Navy Geothermal Program Office’s Senior Geologist, Andy Sabin.

Topics will cover the following:

  • What are geothermal systems and where are they located?
  • What water and land resources are necessary for geothermal energy production?
  • How have existing geothermal operations developed innovative solutions to address water use?
  • What does the future of geothermal energy production look like?

This event will take place at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C.  Please RSVP to Abby Seadler ( by September 14, 2015 to attend the briefing.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy[] (EERE) is at the center of creating the clean energy economy today. EERE leads the U.S. Department of Energy’s efforts to develop and deliver market-driven solutions for energy-saving homes, buildings, and manufacturing; sustainable transportation; and renewable electricity generation.

The Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) accelerates the deployment of clean, domestic geothermal energy by supporting innovative technologies that reduce the cost and risk of hydrothermal[], low-temperature[], and enhanced geothermal systems[] development. Learn more on our website[].”

Nevada Mineral Industry 2013 now available!


Title: The Nevada mineral industry 2013
John L. Muntean, David A. Davis, Lisa Shevenell, and Alexandra Reid
Year: 2015
Series: Mineral Industry MI-2013
Format: 158 pages, includes color

Starting in 1979, NBMG has issued annual reports that describe mineral and geothermal activities and accomplishments in Nevada, and include statistics of known gold and silver deposits. This report describes mineral, oil and gas, and geothermal activities and accomplishments in Nevada in 2013: production statistics, exploration and development including drilling for petroleum and geothermal resources, discoveries of orebodies, new mines opened, and expansion and other activities of existing mines. Statistics of known gold and silver deposits, and directories of mines and mills are included.

View or purchase MI-2013 here: