The New Clean Energy Technology That Could Power 20% of America's Electricity
Enhanced geothermal could solve one of clean energy's biggest problems
Geothermal power is having a bit of an unexpected moment.
After two decades of slow growth, most energy experts wrote the technology off as an unrealistic way to generate large amounts of electricity. In an era dominated by incumbent energy sources like natural gas and cheap emerging technologies like solar, geothermal was expensive and, more importantly, geographically limited. Few saw it ever generating more than 1% of America’s electricity.
But recently there have been a series of breakthroughs in enhanced geothermal systems, an advanced method of generating electricity from the Earth’s heat.
If these developments continue, geothermal could generate between 10 and 20 percent of the country’s electricity in the coming decades, according to recent studies from the Department of Energy and Princeton.
Enhanced geothermal could also solve one of clean energy’s biggest problems: intermittency. Unlike solar and wind, geothermal power plants can operate at all hours of the day, no matter the weather or time of year.
In this story, I’ll cover the past, present, and future of enhanced geothermal and look at what needs to happen in order for the technology to play a large role in decarbonizing America’s power sector. I’ll cover:
The history of traditional geothermal power
Why traditional geothermal entered a period of stagnation in the 1990s
The story of the nuclear weapons scientists at Los Alamos who launched a side project that led to the first enhanced geothermal tests in the 1970s
How recent developments in fracking technology led to renewed interest and innovation in geothermal
How current government incentives could pave the way for this technology
The barriers that could prevent geothermal’s growth
Like my recent article on battery storage, I went really deep on this one trying to understand geothermal’s history and why there’s been such a surge in progress lately.
So with that, let’s dive in.