New Process for Geothermal Offers Another Renewable Option

New Process for Geothermal Offers Another Renewable Option

Geothermal energy requires three elements: heat, water, and permeable rock. In the past, this form of energy could only be sourced where these three elements occurred naturally together, but a process called enhanced geothermal means all three aren’t necessary. As a Grist explainer video details, water is injected at high pressure into the ground to access energy. Kind of like fracking (but without the pollution), the injection creates fissures that release heat at the surface. The enhanced process could expand the production of renewable geothermal energy considerably; the US currently generates about 3 gigawatts (GW) but using enhanced geothermal could ramp that number to 5,000 GW.

Grist: How a geothermal breakthrough could transform our energy grid, March 16, 2022.

Why This Matters

To urgently get off of fossil fuels, all options for renewable energy should be on the table. The advantage of geothermal energy is that it’s capable of producing full power almost all the time, but the enhanced technology still requires massive investment. Wind and solar are less expensive options, which has helped put them at the forefront of the renewables movement. Still, they have the added complexity of only generating energy part-time and requiring storage solutions.

What’s Next: Extra Hot Temperatures

There was an expansion of geothermal energy in the US a few decades ago, but when the cost of natural gas, solar, and wind energy fell, so did the interest in geothermal. Now, tests are being run at the Newberry Volcano in Oregon, where the level of heat needed for geothermal energy is just two miles below the surface instead of the usual eight. Researchers aim to see if a new technology -- a laser heat ray that can melt rocks -- could make enhanced geothermal more widely used.

"We’re talking about replacing every coal plant in the country, or every natural gas plant in the country with geothermal,” Geoff Garrison, vice president of research and development at the geothermal company AltaRock Energy, told Grist. We can do that. That’s the scale of the resource we have at hand."

KTVZ Newschannel 21: Newberry Crater soon could become first ‘Super HotRock’ geothermal energy source, October 21, 2021.