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By Robert Rapier on Aug 24, 2008 with no responses

Speaking of Geothermal

Tags: Geothermal

In the previous post I stated the geothermal – a very promising and cost-competitive source of alternative energy – doesn’t get the same kind of press coverage as wind or solar power. Ironically, I hadn’t realized that Google has just announced a >$10 million investment in advanced geothermal technology. It even got quite a bit of press coverage (probably due more to the ‘Google’ factor than anything). Scientific American has one of the better articles I have seen:

Drilling for Hot Rocks: Google Sinks Cash into Advanced Geothermal Technology

Some excerpts:

For $1 billion over the next 40 years, the U.S. could develop 100 gigawatts (a gigawatt equals one billion watts) of electricity generation that emits no air pollution and pumps out power to the grid even more reliably than coal-fired power plants, according to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Now—the charitable wing of the search engine giant—has chipped in nearly $11 million for this renewable resource: so-called geothermal power, or tapping the Earth’s heat to make electricity.

Amazingly, this is more money than the U.S. government spends on this technology:

That makes the largest funder of enhanced geothermal research in the country, outspending the U.S. government. The Australian government has pledged $43.5 million for such projects and already has several in the works, as do Europe and Japan.

While there are still technical challenges for advanced geothermal, geothermal itself has been producing cost-competitive electricity for many years in places where surface magma is readily available. In fact, as I have pointed out before, the U.S. is the world’s leader producer of geothermal electricity at around 3 gigawatts of capacity. The difference in advanced geothermal is that they are going after magma that is far beneath the surface, which would greatly increase the geographical area over which geothermal technology could be applied. Therein lies the technical and economic challenges: Drilling rigs are expensive and in short supply, and you use a lot of electricity pumping water down the drill hole.