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The promise of geothermal energy & technology – the increasing coverage in the media

Oil Drilling Rig, Ocean Star Drilling Platform, Galveston, Texas (source: flickr/ Jerry and Pat Donaho, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 23 Oct 2020

A recent article in Vox shares a very promising picture of geothermal in the context of technological development and the opportunities of how it can help propel geothermal forward.

We see increasing coverage of geothermal energy in various media outlets, some specific on the oil sector and focused on the promise of geothermal for the struggling oil and gas sector, some focused on specific technological solutions, and some more general.

In the latter category falls an article by publication Vox, “Geothermal energy is poised for a big breakout – An engineering problem that, when solved, solves energy.”

We as an industry face always the challenge that we need to explain geothermal energy first before we can even get to the great advantages. In the context of reaching media coverage this does not make it easy, which the author’s intro shows. We could not agree more with his stake that now “… is a great time to start paying attention” to geothermal energy.

At the same time we have to make sure to communicate that geothermal energy utilisation has been around for a long time and is used around the world either for power generation or for heat applications, in what we call direct use of heat.

Where the sector has failed is getting the wide reach and attention as other renewable energy technologies. A lot of the challenges involved with geothermal and the little inroad we have made in the overall energy transition discussions are more related to funding and the risks in drilling. So yes partly this has to do with technical challenges and new development and approaches could help push geothermal beyond its current state of a relatively slow development. How these technologies can provide the much needed “economies of scale” that would make geothermal more attractive will have to be seen. But it provides a great attention that we so much need.

The scalability to larger projects and thereby better economics for projects is a crucial element. Simply the geothermal projects of today are too small to compete with large scale plant projects of a size of 800 MW or even more.

In the heating context clearly the story becomes even more interesting.

So to see an article like that of Vox explaining geothermal, tackle the topic of conventional geothermal systems, EGS, super-hot-rock geothermal, and – a term that is new to us – advanced geothermal systems (here referring to closed-loop systems). The look at where the cost differs in these projects points to the technology aspects.

From that perspective, clearly technology solutions that help make geothermal more competitive are rather interesting.  Clearly the other key point made is that we need to figure out a way to broaden the horizon for geothermal which would allow geothermal development beyond the traditional “hot zones” of this world and an approach that tackles the resource risk (sufficient water and heat)  and allow geothermal being developed across the world.

How these technologies will concretely help push geothermal beyond its current status will have to be seen. So as Jamie Beard, who runs the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at the University of Texas Austin, said. While being bullish on AGS, “she warns that Eavor — like other promising geothermal startups Fervo EnergyGreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems — does not yet have everything figured out, despite its confident claims.”

So does the claim of “the extraordinary promise of geothermal” stand? The answer is clearly a YES, yet if it will be predominantly power or heat will have to be seen. I personally think that the heat part will be the most promising aspect of geothermal in the near and medium-term future. The applications are simply broader and with direct impact on abolishing fossil fuels, e.g. for heating applications, but also for food production, food dehydration etc. If geothermal will be competitive on a price level in the medium-to-long-term future is the big question.

On the role of oil and gas as a key driver for geothermal, the article describes the opportunity to bring a struggling oil and gas workforce to work, while at the same time profiting from the know-how for startups tackling technical innovation for geothermal.

The article mentions a large number of individuals and companies that clearly are on the forefront of technological innovation for geothermal, bringing the oil and gas know into the geothermal sector and push us as an industry forward.

Definitely make sure to read the full article, link below.

Companies and individuals mentioned in the article:

… oh and yes, being quoted as a publication is not too bad either. 😉

Here the updated top 10 of geothermal countries based on installed geothermal power generation capacity as of October 2020.

Source: Vox