Geothermal Moves Along, But Slowly

In the past year, just 91 megawatts (MW) of new geothermal capacity has been added in the US, for a total of 3187 MW. 

Although that doesn’t seem like much, it’s the most in the world. 

Importantly, geothermal can replace the baseload energy that coal and other fossil fuels supply, because it isn’t intermittent like solar and wind. But it requires a lot of water, which is becoming an increasingly rare resource especially in the West.

California leads with 2,615 MW online, and nearly 2,000 MW under development.  Last year, geothermal supplied 42% of California’s renewable energy – the state has the potential for 24,750 MW.

Six other states have operating geothermal plants: Alaska,  Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Nevada has 59 projects in the pipeline and seven other states have projects under development, according to the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA). 

"Demonstrating the abilities of geothermal systems to produce power from lower temperature systems, such as oil and gas co-produced geothermal, is pushing out the boundaries for geothermal power to encompass over a third of the U.S.," says Executive Director Karl Gawell.

"We’ve seen slow but steady growth for geothermal, even in a challenging economy. The drivers for that growth have been state renewable portfolio standards, federal tax credits, DOE demonstration project support, and the fact that utility scale geothermal energy offers clean baseload energy," he says.

Expiring federal renewable energy tax credits (PTC), that were again voted down recently, also affect geothermal industry. 

New geothermal plants have a 4-8 year lead time before they come online, and investors need to know those tax credits will be there.

Over the past year, four companies were responsible for the minimal geothermal development we’ve seen: 

  • Energy Source: 49.9 MW Hudson Ranch I, California.
  • Ormat Technologies: 26 MW in several projects
  • Terra-Gen: 1.9 MW expansion in Nevada
  • U.S. Geothermal retrofitted a 12.75 MW plant.

In 2012, GEA expects another 100 MW to come online, representing nearly a billion dollars of investment.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) released a report showing how federal legislation has spurred the growth of renewable energy in Nevada, and what’s needed to drive more investment.

The US has over 3 million megawatts of geothermal resources – 10 times the installed capacity of coal power plants today, according to research from Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Lab. You can view the resources using Google Earth

Geothermal is growing faster outside the US; the US geothermal industry exports more than it imports. GEA sasys geothermal equipment manufacturers and service providers are in almost every state, providing jobs there for products that get exported.

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Comments on “Geothermal Moves Along, But Slowly”

  1. Joe

    Uses a lot of water? Why isn’t that recoverable?
    And I can’t understand why, when 6 feet under everyliving person in the world temperatures are between something like 50 and 65 degrees, we can’t provide a comfortable environment for all.
    I don’t think we have to be socialists to capitalize on that.

  2. Rona Fried

    Joe, there’s a difference between big geothermal plants like we’re talking about in this article, and geothermal heat pumps, which are increasingly being used for heating and cooling in homes and businesses. For geothermal heat pumps, you have to drill down to the water table – at my house that means about 400 feet.


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