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Enough geothermal energy to power the globe -- now that's hot!

Today, as part of our Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative, announced more than $10 million in investments and grants in Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology. EGS expands the potential of traditional geothermal energy by orders of magnitude. The traditional geothermal approach relies on finding naturally occurring pockets of steam or hot water. The EGS process, by comparison, replicates these conditions by fracturing hot rock, circulating water through the system, and using the resulting steam to produce electricity in a conventional turbine.

EGS has the potential to provide clean renewable electricity 24/7, at a cost cheaper than coal. The ability to produce electricity from geothermal energy has been thought exclusive to locations such as California and Iceland. However EGS could allow us to harness the heat within the earth almost anywhere. To see see the massive size of the US geothermal resource accessible by EGS, check out our Google Earth layer. For more on EGS, watch this video, featuring Dr. Steve Chu, Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Dr. Jefferson Tester, professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and lead author of a major recent study on EGS:

Our EGS partners to date include:

  • AltaRock Energy: $6.25 million investment to develop innovative technologies to achieve significant cost reductions and improved performance in EGS projects
  • Potter Drilling: $4 million investment in two tranches, to develop new approaches to lower the cost and expand the range of deep hard rock drilling, a critical element to large-scale deployment of EGS
  • Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory: $489,521 grant to improve understanding of the size and distribution of geothermal energy resources and to update geothermal mapping of North America

Working with Geodynamics, one of the world's leading EGS development companies, we modeled Geodynamics' first 50 MW system at the Cooper Basin in SketchUp, Google's 3D modeling technology. To see how EGS works, check out the animation of the SketchUp model or download it.

EGS is heating up around the world. Australia, Germany, and the European Union are currently leading the technology and commercialization race. All 50 U.S. states, Europe, Russia, China, and India all have substantial thermal resources accessible by EGS.

While the US debates drilling in the ocean for oil, we are focused on drilling for renewable energy - and lots of it - right beneath our feet. A recent report by MIT on EGS estimated just 2% of the heat 3 - 10 km below below the continental United States is more than 2,500 times the country's total annual energy use. The United States needs more aggressive government policies to help catch up to other nations, including expanded R&D funding, a national renewable portfolio standard, and reliable tax incentives. For more on our geothermal policy agenda, read this brief.

EGS has enormous potential to cleanly address the world's energy challenges. We look forward to continuing our efforts to advance EGS through technology, investment, policy and information.

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