Just as we have been using fracking to extract natural gas from the earth, the same technology can now be used to capture heat for our energy grid. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that even if we tapped just 2% of the heat beneath our feet, that would meet the national energy demand annually times 2,000, for the foreseeable future. That is a lot of heat!
Convinced of the technology’s efficacy, last year the Department of Energy helped Ormat Technologies build its Desert Peak power plant near Reno, Nevada. That plant has been operational for a year this month.
In the energy divining business, prospecting and drilling can devour a company’s cash fast. This is especially serious if you do not start producing results in a reasonable timeframe. The Department of Energy is responding to these risks. Given the opportunity for mutual benefit to other energy players, industry cooperation would make much sense. David Biello summarizes (“The Coming Boom in Geothermal Fracking” Scientific American, August 2013, p. 20):
“If technologies can be developed to reduce the risks, geothermal could play a more prominent energy role. With that in mind, the DOE is pursuing better methods for geothermal prospecting, drilling and fracking. Because much of that work could also benefit traditional drilling, the oil and gas industry may actually help foot the bill for enhanced geothermal technology.”
Energy technology and policy is never simple. Many factors must be considered such as costs, environment, sustainability, feasibility, stakeholder interests, and regulations to name a few. Nevertheless, geothermal energy certainly seems to be a very positive development. It is one that many have waited for a long time. Perhaps it is time we launch geothermal as the next best wave of energy.