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GeoVision report: Deployment potential for geothermal in U.S.

GeoVision Chapter 4 - screenshot of Title Page
Alexander Richter 5 Jun 2019

In the recently released GeoVision report by the U.S. DOE, analysis highlights the great deployment opportunity provided by geothermal energy in the U.S., particularly with regulatory reform.

We have been reporting on the extensive GeoVision report on “Harnessing the Heat Beneath Our Feet” published by the U.S. Department of Energy. With the wealth of information found in the report we will continue highlighting certain elements of the report.

Today, we want to cover Chapter 4 – Analysis: Results, Opportunities, and Impacts.

The chapter shares details about the Deployment Potential for geothermal energy in the U.S. both for electricity generation but also for the non-electric sector.

In the analysis, the report assesses the electric-sector opportunities (for geothermal) under three primary scenarios: “Business-as-Usual (BAU), Improved Regulatory Timeline (IRT), and Technology Improvement (TI).”

“One key finding in the electric-sector modeling is that regulatory reforms assumed in the IRT scenario alone could double the size of installed geothermal capacity through increased access to and development of conventional hydrothermal resources.”

“Additionally, the analysis indicates that improved exploration and drilling technologies envisioned in the TI scenario can assist across the board in the industry’s ability to maximize resource capture—including up to 60 gigawatts-electric (GWe) of electricity-generating capacity by 2050. The most promising growth potential can be realized by advancing early-stage research and development into technologies that support EGS. ”

The Business-as-Usual scenario shows the continued gradual growth, but not the accelerated development needed for geothermal energy to play a significant role in the renewable energy space in the U.S.

The scenario of “improved regulatory timeline” shows the significant impact regulatory changes could have for the industry, and this despite not taking into account further advancements to e.g. EGS technologies beyond existing levels.  The analysis further shows that the industry is limited with the amount of identified hydrothermal resources and how important the utilisation of currently undiscovered hydrothermal resources are.

In essence – “Using existing geothermal technologies – the geothermal industry could double in size relative to Business-as-Usual through only regulatory reform.”, so the results of the GeoVision analysis.

With further technical improvements, geothermal power production could support up to 8.5% of the total national generation by 205o, as compared to the 0.4% share of total national generation contributed by the existing geothermal industry today.

The opportunities would be even greater, if one would model in higher natural gas prices in the U.S.

Looking into the deployment potential for the non-electric sector, the study also looks into geothermal direct use for district heating.

“The GeoVision analysis reports economic potential for geothermal district heating in relation to both the associated conventional hydrothermal and EGS resource bases (i.e., technical and resource potential) and the local demand for district heating (i.e., population density and climate). EGS resources are available over a larger geographic area and represent about 1,000 times more resource potential compared to the corresponding hydrothermal resource potential.”

The key element here is that utilisation opportunities would spread both from the West Coast of the U.S., but also the Northeast of the country. Technology improvements would actually expand utilisation options across most of the United States.

Another interesting point made in the study is the number of local jobs created. The GeoVision analysis indicates that, at a local level, geothermal power plants can provide more than double the long-term jobs per powered household when compared to other utility-scale power-generation technologies considered in the GeoVision analysis.

Chapter 4 of the GeoVision report can be downloaded here (pdf).