Submitted by New Energy News Blog

A U.S. News & World Report writer took a closer look at geothermal energy, a rich New Energy resource.

If geothermal energy does not get the same recognition as sun and wind and wave, there is one simple reason: Its potential productivity has been considered limited.

Wind presently provides 1% to 2% of U.S. electricity and building new wind installations is considered to be a better deal economically than building new coal, nuclear or gas power plants. The Department of Energy says it is entirely practical to obtain 20% of U.S. electricity from wind by 2030.

Solar presently provides less than 1% of U.S. electricity and is still working toward price competitiveness. Studies suggest it is feasible that solar will provide 10% of U.S. electricity by 2025.

Geothermal presently provides about 5% of U.S. electricity, a very important emissions-free 5%. But the Department of Energy declared geothermal energy a mature resource without much potential to grow until The Future of Geothermal Energy, a recent MIT study, found geothermal could eventually provide 20% of U.S. electricity – clean, consistent, 24/7 generation.

What changed? The price of oil, what else? With oil at $130+/barrel, drilling for geothermal resources – previously considered too expensive – is now entirely practical.

A record number of privately financed leases for geothermal development were taken in the last 2 years despite the expense of drilling deep into the earth’s crust. Even oil companies are taking leases.

After letting funding fall off to $5 million in 2006-7, Congress is expected to allot $30 million for geothermal in 2008. Most of the money will likely go to developing the enhanced geothermal systems advocated in the MIT study.

There is another reason to take a closer look at geothermal: Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP). This technology cuts the cost of heating and cooling by 50%.

GSHP places pipes from the building (residence or business) in the ground, circulates liquid through the pipes and returns it to the building. During cold weather, the deeper earth’s more moderate temperature warms the circulating liquid. During hot weather, the deeper earth’s more moderate temperature cools the circulating liquid. When the temperature-moderated liquid circulates through the building, it reduces cold weather heating requirements and hot weather cooling requirements.

The system can be expensive to install and take some time to pay itself off but the equipment is durable, the utility bill savings are formidable and the conservation of energy is remarkable. (More information is available from the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association)

GSHP is one of those many less-than-sexy efficiency measures that cumulatively mean as much if not more than New Energy development in the short term fight AGAINST global climate change, FOR energy self-sufficiency and FOR energy security.

click to enlarge

Economics of GSHP from the Department of Energy’s EERE website.

In the Push for Alternative Energy, What Happened to Geothermal? Despite its promise, geothermal energy struggled for funding until the recent boom in oil prices
Kent Garber, July 21, 2008 (U.S. News & World Report)

Nobel laureate and Academy Award-winning former Vice President Al Gore

– Geothermal energy is a rich New Energy resource although as yet inadequately tapped and often overlooked.
– Ground Source Heat Pumping (GSHP) is a way of using geothermal temperature to mitigate temperature variations and reduce the work on building heating and cooling systems.

U.S. geothermal resources. (click to enlarge)

– Geothermal: Presently provides ~5% of U.S. electricity.
– 1980s: Funding to geothermal R&D was in the $80 million range
– Early 2000s: Funding to geothermal R&D fell to the $30 million range
– 2006: DOE pronounced geothermal “mature” and proposed zero funding although $5 million was allotted by Congress.
– GSHP goes back to the 1940s.

– Nevada and Utah are the states with the biggest geothermal resources in the U.S. and most geothermal sites are in the west but the east has resources that can be exploited and – Much of the U.S. geothermal resource is on federal lands.
– GSHP can be done anywhere.
– China requires almost all new buildings to have GSHP.

– Vice President Gore’s mention of geothermal energy in his recent widely heralded call for more emphasis on New Energy development highlighted the renewed attention going to it.
– Investment in geothermal development is on the increase but funding cutbacks have left the field without top researchers at national laboratories and universities and research into new technologies stalled.
– There is some concern about environmental harm from geothermal drilling on federally protected western lands.
– A production tax credit (PTC) for geothermal only came in 2005 and like other New Energy incentives is presently threatened with discontinuation.

The MIT study sees rapid and big expansion of geothermal production – to a point. (click to enlarge)

– John Lund, director, Oregon Institute of Technology Geo-Heat Center: “They were going to zero it out…They said we were a mature technology and that we didn’t need support.”
– Karl Gawell, executive director, Geothermal Energy Association: “A lot of the existing research structure has been put on hold or dismantled…That has not yet turned around… We’ve lost some ground.”
– Maria Richards, program coordinator, Southern Methodist University geothermal lab: “These tax credits have a huge impact…So many wind farms were created because the tax credit gave them a write-off. For geothermal, the credit seems like a small amount, but it really adds up.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *