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.

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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.”

The Nevada Mineral Industry 2014—just released!


Title: The Nevada Mineral Industry 2014
Authors: John L. Muntean, David A. Davis, and Lisa Shevenell
Year: 2016
Series: Mineral Industry MI-2014
Format: 171 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 2014: 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.

Free download:

Click here for previous editions.

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:[][]

Geothermal Resource Potential Assessment, White Pine County

Williams_Hot_Spring_Faulds_resized_CMYKTitle: Geothermal Resource Potential Assessment, White Pine County, Nevada
Author: Nicholas H. Hinz, Mark F. Coolbaugh, and James E. Faulds
Year: 2015
Series: NBMG Report 55
Format: 21 pages, color

Free download or purchase here:

Geothermal resources can potentially contribute toward the renewable energy portfolio of White Pine County (WPC) in two ways: first through the direct conversion of heat energy into electricity, and the second by way of direct-use applications in which thermal energy is used as a source of heat for buildings, greenhouses, and related structures. Several known geothermal areas within WPC lie proximal to the Southwest Intertie power line currently under construction.

A potential source of electricity could come from conventional geothermal systems associated with young faults and regions of active crustal deformation. These systems have a total installed capacity in the Great Basin region of nearly 1,000 MWe. White Pine County hosts several geothermal systems of this type, but none are currently producing electricity. White Pine County has relatively low rates of crustal deformation relative to western Nevada or the Wasatch region of Utah (e.g., faulting accommodating crustal extension). However, based on a review of the geology in the region, we conclude that sustained and reasonable exploration efforts could result in the discovery and development of one or more electricity-grade geothermal systems, with potential generation capacity at each system in the range of 1–20 MWe.

In addition, a new and unproven type of potential geothermal resource termed “deep stratigraphic reservoirs” or “hot sedimentary aquifers” has recently been proposed in the western United States. White Pine County, and in particular, the northern Steptoe Valley, has some of the most promising potential for electricity generation from this type of reservoir in the United States. Preliminary calculations suggest that as much as 500 MWe of baseload electricity in the northern Steptoe Valley could be produced from this type of reservoir using wells reaching depths of 2 to 4 km. The economic feasibility remains unproven, but initial estimates are encouraging.

Based on observed surface temperatures and flow rates of springs, several geothermal systems in WPC also have the potential for direct use, including the heating of buildings and greenhouses. Such uses could reduce the consumption of electricity generated from fossil fuels and could lead to economic expansion by extending the growing season for certain agricultural products and reducing utility costs.

Funding for this work was provided by a grant from the Department of Energy.

More information on geothermal energy:

New Geologic Map Released—Seven Troughs

Preliminary Geologic Map of the Southern and Central Seven Troughs Range, Potential Geothermal Area, Pershing County, Nevada

Authors: Corina Forson, James E. Faulds, and Mitchell D. Allen
Year: 2015
Series: Open-File Report 15-6
Format: plate: 42 x 41 inches, color; text: 6 pages, b/w
Scale: 1:24,000

The Seven Troughs Range resides in the northwestern Basin and Range province 190 km northeast of Reno and 50 km northwest of Lovelock in western Nevada. There is no known geothermal system in the area. Mesozoic metasedimentary strata and intrusions dominate the northern and southern parts of the range, but are nonconformably overlain by a thick sequence (~1.5 km) of Oligocene to Miocene volcanic and volcaniclastic rocks and Quaternary sediments in the central part of the range. The southern part of the range consists of a basement horst block bounded by two major range-front faults, with Holocene fault scarps marking the more prominent fault on the east side of the range. In contrast, several gently to moderately west-tilted fault blocks, with good exposures of the Tertiary volcanic strata and bounded by a series of steeply east-dipping normal faults, characterize the central part of the range. Kinematic analysis of faults in the range and regional relations indicate a west-northwest-trending extension direction. Accordingly, slip and dilation tendency analyses suggest that north-northeast striking faults are the most favorably oriented for reactivation and fluid flow under the current stress field (Forson, 2014; Forson et al., 2014).

Two areas in the Seven Troughs Range have a favorable structural setting for generating permeability and channeling geothermal fluids to the near surface (Forson, 2014): 1) A major right step in the range-front fault and concomitant fault intersection on the east side of the Seven Troughs Range. Slightly elevated 2-m-deep temperatures (~15°C vs. background temperatures of 11–12°C) have been found in this vicinity. 2) A left step in the range-front fault and attendant fault termination on the west side of the range in the vicinity of Porter Spring. This area has the highest recorded 2-m-deep temperatures (~19°C). Although the 2-m temperature survey does not reflect the presence of hot geothermal fluids near the surface at these locations, a 2D low resistivity MT (Wannamaker et al., 2011) anomaly and the favorable structural settings warrant further analysis for potentially blind geothermal systems in the area.

This map was prepared with support from the U.S. Department of Energy.

To view, download, or purchase map, 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[].”