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The future of geothermal, purpose and the oil and gas sector as game-changer

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Alexander Richter 10 Nov 2020

Is the geothermal sector open enough to warm up to real and sustained oil and gas engagement in geothermal and how can we shape the discussion about it, is part of a rather interesting article by Jamie Beard of the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organisation of the University of Texas in Austin.

If you have not discovered the fantastic HeatBeat blog, a blog about the future of geothermal energy by the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization in Austin, Texas, you should check it out.

Covering geothermal from the perspective and in connection with the oil sector, the blog provides great insights into technical aspects, yet also how the transfer of oil and gas technology and know-how into the geothermal sector can look like. The Pivot2020 event discussed in detail how this transfer can look like … or how I recently heard how “geothermal can give the oil & gas sector a purpose”.

The increased interest in geothermal energy by companies in the oil sector, both the oil service firms, but also some of the big oil companies surely creates for interesting discussions. For folks like me that have no background in subsurface aspects of our industry, or oil for that matter, the blog and interviews by Jamie Beard are interesting.

Jamie Beard is an energy and regulatory attorney, and lifelong proponent of geothermal as the baseload clean energy of the future. She is Executive Director of the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization (GEO) at the University of Texas at Austin.

In her recent post on “If oil and gas becomes geothermal, what does geothermal become?”, she looks at the question on “what real and sustained oil and gas engagement in geothermal – geothermal energy at oil and gas scale – would look like?”

But – so her piece – is the geothermal sector open enough about real and sustained interest and engagement by oil and gas? How could cooperation look between these so different groups? … and how does one steer the element of social license with the engagement of oil and gas players?

She describes the oil and gas sector as a crucial, capable and resourced assets on this planet to solve climate change and geothermal provides the opportunity for them to leverage “what they already know and do.” … or as I describe above “give the (oil) industry a purpose.”

Looking into the technological advancements and the different time with no clear turnaround in oil prices in sight or expected, she describes that previous half-hearted looks by the oil sector into geothermal might now look quite different. Some of the larger players are “repurposing key talent toward geothermal problem sets”, which provides exciting and fast moving results.

I even remember during the Pivot 2020 event set up by Jamie and her colleagues, there was the coining of the term of the Advanced Geothermal Systems as an add on to the classic termination of Conventional Geothermal and Engineered/ Enhanced Geothermal Systems. With the closed-loop technology approach that could bring scale and de-risk geothermal on a much broader scale, advancements in drilling technology and so much more, we might look at a complete new playing field.

I vividly remember discussions with a chief strategist of one of the oil majors around 10 years ago, where it was clear that “scale” and thereby meaning the small-scale of geothermal was seen as the key hurdle for the majors to seriously look into geothermal. With the new advanced geothermal systems and EGS we might actually get to the scale.

In her piece, Jamie writes about the view that by simply applying oil and gas technologies and otherwise “keeping things business as usual in the geothermal industry” will not work. Oil and gas companies are considering to pursue greenfield geothermal development, so question is if this could mean drilling on a scale somewhat similar to current drilling efforts for oil and gas projects. Currently, so Jamie, there are about 15 geothermal wells drilled in the U.S. on average … the number for oil and gas is around 20,000. The speed this could add to geothermal would be dramatic and not only change geothermal, but absolutely transform the sector.

Over the years, I have been talking a lot about the wider eco-system of the geothermal sector and the need to professionalise aspects of our industry that we have been somewhat neglecting or simply not been too strong in, such as policy work, marketing, representation, as well as communication and media. Adding scale of the kind that Jamie describes, clearly would blow this out of proportion, e.g. in the case for regulatory work. The powerful lobby work of the oil and gas sector paired with the “geothermal” purpose would clearly change the game dramatically.

How these scenarios could look like is described very well by Jamie and I encourage you to read her whole piece via the link below. These are exciting times and really might turn things for geothermal.

Source: HeatBeat blog/ Jamie Beard