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Geothermal Energy Can Reduce The Cost of Electricity

  • Energy

In 2021, a Houston-based group called Sage Geosystems, run by former Shell employees, started an energy company that wasn’t drilling for oil or gas. They were looking to experiment with new technology for producing geothermal energy.

They used a diesel-powered pump and fluid to create cracks in the rock deep below the surface, a technique similar to fracking for oil and gas. Some 20,000 barrels of water were pumped into the 2-mile-deep well. Hours later, an operator opened the well from a control room. Pipes above ground shook as the pressurized water gushed back up. The water spun their turbines and generated electricity!

Many other companies also believe geothermal power is key to replacing polluting coal- and gas-fired power plants in Texas and elsewhere. Even though solar and wind are proven clean energy sources, they only produce electricity when the sun shines or the wind blows. Geothermal power could provide continuous, emissions-free energy as the heat constantly radiates out from the center of Earth when radioactive elements break down.

But of course Texas, an energy hub, has become a “hot spot” for geothermal energy exploration. A handful of companies are based in Houston, and many oil industry workers are employing their knowledge of geology and skillset with drilling/extraction to a new sub sector.

Geothermal Energy Texas Electricity Price Reduction

The total amount of geothermal electricity produced in America is tiny compared with other sources. It accounted for about 4 gigawatts last year, according to a federal analysis, or enough to power about 800,000 Texas homes.

Researchers say there’s a lot more geothermal power to be had by pumping fluid through hot rock where there is no natural water. With technological advances, geothermal power in the U.S. could grow to 90 gigawatts by 2050, so companies are racing to develop their technology and techniques to harness this energy source. They will vary in how deep they drill (7,000 ft, all the way to 66,000 ft), how they heat the water (in the well or in the rock), and how they bring the heated water back up (in the same well or through a secondary one).

Like oil prospectors, geothermal prospectors must figure out the best places to drill. And people will have the same concerns about triggering earthquakes like oil and gas fracking. In 2006, a geothermal plant in Switzerland caused a magnitude 3.4 earthquake that damaged buildings and led to the plant’s closure. In 2017, a magnitude 5.5 earthquake linked to a project in South Korea injured dozens. Texas should mandate protocols, but that will be tough to legislate in the state.

The geothermal businesses will have to show it can compete with the cost of other power sources. Perhaps help from the federal government in the form of Inflation Reduction Act tax credits will spur more interest. The Department of Energy believes $20 – $25 billion is needed to be invested by 2030 to move toward widespread use.

The geothermal business has a lot of growing to do, like the early days of wind or solar. The technology needs to advance. The history of modern geothermal power goes back a century when the world’s first full-scale geothermal power plant started operating in 1913 in Italy. And in 1960, Pacific Gas and Electric built the first commercial geothermal power plant in the United States at a spot in Northern California known as “The Geysers.”

Then in the 70s, the federal Department of Energy started researching pulling power from what was referred to as hot, dry rock. Even though the country suffered through Arab embargo on exporting oil to America and high oil prices, the technology didn’t get far enough to gain traction.

Reduce Price Electricity Geothermal Energy

Engineers built geothermal power plants where they could find existing water resources relatively easily, maybe marked by hot springs or fumaroles, which are holes where hot gases and vapors escape from underground, said Lauren Boyd, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s geothermal technologies office. But building new plants got riskier as prime locations got harder to find.

There’s still opportunity because the O & G industry can develop technology quickly. Oil and gas people host a significant amount of insight and can be a huge asset if employed ethically.

Chris Anderson, the leader of TED, known for its conferences with TED talks by experts on various topics, has invested $16 million through his climate investment fund. Drilling firm Nabors has invested $9 million more.

They are not the only people who see the potential of leveraging expertise from the oil and gas industry to develop geothermal energy production. Drilling into high-temperature rock in Texas presents a huge opportunity for tech transfer into geothermal.