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Geothermal Poised for Growth

March 15, 2011

Geologically heated ground water is a virtually "limitless" energy resource present in Hawaii. Credit: Geothermall Energy Association

One of the many ramifications of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan was the stark reminder of the vulnerability of nuclear power plants. As a direct result seven older nuclear plants are being shut down in Germany and the potential for catasrophic disaster has renewed the emphasis on other safer methods of energy production.  One such beneficiary is geothermal.

A recent report by Pike Research forcasted a doubling of geothermal power by 2020. That was before the current bad publicity surrounding nuclear power.

Geothermal energy is defined as heat from the Earth. It is a clean, renewable resource that provides energy in the U.S. and around the world in a variety of applications and resources. Although areas with telltale signs like hot springs are more obvious and are often the first places geothermal resources are used, the heat of the earth is available everywhere, and we are learning to use it in a broader diversity of circumstances. It is considered a renewable resource because the heat emanating from the interior of the Earth is essentially limitless. The heat continuously flowing from the Earth’s interior, which travels primarily by conduction, is estimated to be equivalent to 42 million megawatts (MW) of power, and is expected to remain so for billions of years to come, ensuring an inexhaustible supply of energy.

Both private capital and public support are coming into the geothermal market. Private loans backed by Department of Energy loan guarantees are bringing geothermal plants online in Oregon and Nevada, and in the past year the Department of Energy (DOE) has funded geothermal research, development, and demonstration projects in 39 states worth $400 million.

The growth in finance comes as transmission networks and policies are congealing to support new geothermal development. Initiatives such as $25 million in DOE funding granted to The Western Electricity Coordinating Council and the Western Governors’ Association have allowed plans to come together to ensure geothermal power can go from where it is made to where it is needed.

As 2011 unfolds there will be a new surge in geothermal power projects. Around 500 to 700 MW of power projects are expected to enter their final construction phase, adding approximately 3,000 construction jobs this summer.

The industry, which has been providing clean, renewable baseload power in America for over 50 years, is expanding into new regions with the support of increased funding and technological advancements.


6 Comments leave one →
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