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DOE aims to slash cost of next-gen geothermal technologies

Advancements in enhanced technologies have stretched geothermal's feasible application beyond the handful of states where favorable geology exists to support power plants.

The U.S. Dept. of Energy has announced a new effort to slash the cost of power generation from enhanced geothermal systems by 90% to $45 per megawatt hour by 2035.

Advancements in enhanced technologies have stretched geothermal’s feasible application beyond the handful of states where favorable geology exists to support power plants.

More than five terawatts of heat resources—enough to meet the electricity needs of the entire world—exist in the United States, according to the DOE.

DOE is investing in research and development that will help the nation access its full geothermal potential and reach the Enhanced Geothermal Shot goals.

Recent investments include $44 million to help spur EGS innovations for DOE’s Frontier Observatory for Geothermal Energy Research field laboratory and up to $165 million to transfer best practices from oil and gas to advance both EGS and conventional geothermal. 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law advances EGS with $84 million in funding to support four pilot demonstration projects.

“The United States has a vast, geothermal energy resource lying right beneath our feet, and this program will make it economical to bring that power to American households and businesses” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “DOE’s Enhanced Geothermal Shot will move geothermal technology from research and development to cost-effective commercial adoption, helping energy communities and workers transition to producing clean energy for the future.”

The geothermal industry and workforce are also similar to oil and gas, presenting an opportunity to transition skilled workers, as well as entire communities, and equipment from fossil fuels to clean energy.

Geothermal energy currently generates about 3.7 gigawatts of electricity in the United States, but a substantial amount of geothermal energy is not accessible with current technology. 

Simplified, EGS is a process of creating human-made underground reservoirs, which is accomplished by injecting fluid deep underground into naturally heated rocks that otherwise lack the fluid flow necessary to draw geothermal energy to the surface.

EGS resources are located deep underground, at least 4,000 feet. Conditions are extreme—hot temperatures, hot and abrasive rocks, and a corrosive environment—and come with significant unknowns. The Enhanced Geothermal Shot seeks to address these challenges by aggressively accelerating research, development, and demonstrations to better understand the subsurface, improve engineering to drill more wells faster, and capture more energy with larger wells and power plants.

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