The first-ever commercial-scale next-gen geothermal power plant is operational. Fervo Energy successfully drilled a horizontal well pair for its enhanced geothermal system (EGS). The 5-MW facility now sells electricity to Google for its Las Vegas data center operations. According to ADI Analytics, geothermal energy has the potential to meet humanity’s energy needs for two million years. However, geothermal’s capacity growth has been limited, accounting for only 0.4% of US electricity generation in 2022. This is attributed to the scarcity of natural reservoirs containing permeable, hot rock saturated with fluid in select areas.

The Re-emergence of Geothermal Energy: Why It’s Important

Climate change has become a pressing issue in recent years, and the transition towards clean energy has become necessary. There are a variety of clean energy sources available, and geothermal power is one of them. Geothermal power is a renewable energy source that utilizes the Earth’s heat as its fuel. While it has been underutilized for decades, it has recently found new life thanks to next-generation geothermal technologies. In this blog post, we will delve into what geothermal energy is, why it is an important energy source, and the recent resurgence in its usage.

As usual Maria Bries, 

First-ever commercial-scale next-gen geothermal power plant is fully operational! Fervo Energy successfully drilled a horizontal well pair for its enhanced geothermal system (EGS). The 5-MW facility is now selling electricity to Google to run its Cloud region data center operations in Las Vegas.

According to ADI Analytics, “It is estimated that 0.1% of the earth’s heat could provide humanity’s energy needs for two million years.” Yet, geothermal has seen little growth in capacity, providing only 0.4% of US electricity generation in 2022. This is due to the fact that only a few areas have natural reservoirs with permeable, hot rock (175-300+°C) saturated with fluid. See U.S. Energy Information Administration‘s table of utility-scale electricity generation by source and share:

But, now, advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing from the oil and gas industry in the Permian Basin could propel EGS into a mainstream renewable energy resource. Tim Latimer, CEO of Fervo Energy, a former oil and gas engineer, used his knowledge from fracking, the process of extracting oil or natural gas from rock formations through horizontal drilling, to create a horizontal doublet well system to engineer a geothermal reservoir that provides a source of 24/7 baseload energy.

Tim Latimer presented the project’s findings recently in Houston, which included microseismic monitoring. One of the criticisms of oil and gas fracking is the wastewater (3 times the volume of hydrocarbons produced) is injected back into the earth into a separate disposal well causing concerns of increased earthquakes and potential aquifer contamination. By contrast, in EGS development, the volume of water injected into an EGS reservoir is very similar to the volume produced, reducing potential for earthquakes (but, see South Korea earthquake below).

See Fervo Energy‘s white paper:

BloombergNEF reported, “Fervo’s results suggest its EGS may store energy for hours or even days and deliver it back over similar periods, effectively acting as a giant and very long-lasting battery. “–jJ.

The DOE’s Enhanced Geothermal Shot Analysis predicts EGS could reach 90 GW (now 3.7 GW) of installed geothermal capacity by 2050, enough to power 65M American homes. See NREL’s Study:

The DOE expects to significantly expand EGS deployment by cutting costs 90% to $45 MWh by 2035. The Utah FORGE, a major EGS testing project, has figured out ways to reduce drilling cost by 20 to 30%. Currently, the DOE has a $74M FOA for EGS pilot projects:

Forbes article, “EGS a Missing Piece of America’s Climate Puzzle:

DOE GeoVision Report:

Listen to david roberts of Volts interview Tim Latimer here:

Geothermal energy is derived from the heat of the Earth’s core. The Earth’s core is a steady source of heat, and it is estimated that it generates around 44,000 TW of heat. Geothermal energy is harnessed through drilling deep into the Earth’s surface and extracting the steam or hot water to power turbines. Geothermal power is a firm, renewable energy source that does not fluctuate with weather or time of day.

Geothermal energy is an important source of energy for many reasons. Firstly, it is a renewable energy source, so it does not have to rely on a finite fuel source. Secondly, geothermal energy is considered a baseload power source. Baseload power sources are sources of electricity that provide a constant supply of energy. This means that geothermal power can provide a consistent source of power without needing to supplement it with other energy sources.

In recent years, technology has advanced to make geothermal energy more accessible and cost-effective. Next-generation geothermal technologies have made it easier to drill for geothermal energy and extract it from the Earth’s surface. BloombergNEF has witnessed a recent surge in utility-scale, commercial projects adopting new geothermal technologies. The self-contained drilling systems and improved controls systems that these projects use allow geothermal energy to be more practical and cost-effective for commercial as well as individual purposes.

Many countries are also focusing on geothermal energy as an important means of reaching their net-zero greenhouse gas emission targets. For example, the Netherlands plans to use geothermal energy to heat six of its largest cities by 2030. Most countries have hot water reserves below the ground, making it an especially useful energy source for many countries all over the world.

Benefits of Geothermal Energy

New research from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reveals that geothermal heat pump systems can significantly decrease energy consumption and emissions. In fact, these systems can reduce energy consumption by up to 44% when compared to air-source heat pumps and up to 72% when compared to electric resistance heating with standard air-conditioning equipment. This groundbreaking technology is revolutionizing the way we heat and cool our homes, providing both economic and environmental benefits.

Are There Any Disadvantages To Geothermal Energy?

Geothermal energy holds great promise as a renewable energy source. However, it’s crucial to consider both the advantages and disadvantages. While its main drawback is its location specificity, where accessibility determines its feasibility, this resource is still a viable option for many areas. Expanding geothermal plants to new regions could potentially unlock its full potential. Understanding the benefits and limitations of geothermal energy is vital as we explore sustainable solutions for our future energy needs.

Geothermal energy is a versatile and valuable energy source that has been underutilized for decades. We should pay more attention to geothermal energy as it is a reliable and green energy source that will play an important role in the future of energy. Thanks to advancements in next-generation geothermal technologies, geothermal energy is becoming more accessible and cost-effective for commercial and individual interests. As more countries adopt geothermal energy as a means of reaching net-zero emissions, we can look forward to a future that is eco-friendly and sustainable.