Western state governors have launched an initiative that they said could spur the development of additional geothermal energy resources.
The Heat Beneath Our Feet initiative was announced by Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO), the incoming chair of the Western Governors’ Association.
The initiative is intended to examine market, technology and policy factors that affect the development and deployment of geothermal technologies. It also will evaluate strategies to scale geothermal technologies across the West. It also will aim to develop key findings on geothermal energy applications, land use planning, and market barriers, as well as assess opportunities to improve federal mapping of and access to geothermal energy reserves and project permitting procedures on federal public lands.
Initiative findings are expected to be included in a report to be released at the WGA 2023 Annual Meeting in Boulder, Colorado.
Geothermal resources are reservoirs of hot water that exist at varying temperatures and depths below the Earth’s surface. Mile-or-more-deep wells can be drilled into underground reservoirs to tap steam and hot water that can be brought to the surface for use in a variety of applications, including electricity generation, direct use, and heating and cooling.
The U.S. holds around 25% of the world’s installed geothermal energy capacity, and 95% of that is in the Western States. California generates the most electricity from geothermal energy. The Geysers dry steam reservoir in Northern California is the largest known dry steam field in the world and has been producing electricity since 1960.
Growth in the U.S. geothermal sector has been slow over the past three decades. “If we are serious about decarbonizing energy in the Western U.S., we need to start taking advantage of the heat beneath our feet,” said Dr. Amanda Kolker, Laboratory Program Manager for Geothermal at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Through the newly launched initiative, WGA intends to evaluate geothermal energy technology development in the Western states and assess the potential benefits it would offer.
There are three basic types of geothermal power plants. Dry steam plants use steam directly from a geothermal reservoir to turn generator turbines. The first geothermal power plant was built in 1904 in Tuscany, Italy, where natural steam erupted from the earth.
Flash steam plants take high-pressure hot water from deep inside the earth and convert it to steam to drive generator turbines. When the steam cools, it condenses to water and is injected back into the ground to be used again. Most geothermal power plants are flash steam plants.
Binary cycle power plants transfer the heat from geothermal hot water to another liquid. The heat causes the second liquid to turn to steam, which is used to drive a generator turbine.