Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Research Shows United States' Accessible Geothermal Energy is Enormous

A recent study performed by Southern Methodist University (SMU) shows the technical power potential of enhanced geothermal systems is immense.

Through its research, SMU was able to create the most data rich map of U.S. geothermal resources to date. According to the thermal data, the United States houses more than 2,980,295 megawatts of geothermal energy that could be harnessed using EGS and other advanced geothermal technologies.

It comes as no surprise that the majority of the capacity is located in the western half of the country. Nevada and Idaho each hold the most potential, while Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado each house significant resources.

In America's renewable energy sector, geothermal has been much slower in developing itself compared to the solar and wind industries. According to the U.S. Geothermal Energy Association there was 3,086 MW of installed geothermal power in America in 2010. This pales in comparison to installed wind and solar power. For example, as of June 2011 there was 42,432 MW of wind power in America.

There are several reasons for the slow development of the industry. A major contributing force, however, is technology. In 2009, EGS burst on to the scene as an advanced technology which would allow geothermal energy to be tapped at a groundbreaking rate. Both the public and private sector pumped money into EGS projects, but to date these projects appear to have raised more questions than solutions.

California-based advanced geothermal developer AltaRock has abandoned a project after it ran into drilling problems. EGS projects have also come into question about whether or not they induce earthquakes as a result of seismic shifts created by their drilling.

Nevertheless, geothermal energy offers an incredible baseload clean energy option as it does not rely on intermittent catalysts like sunshine or wind. Corporate giant Google, Inc. remains one of the biggest private-sector proponents of EGS technology. The company has invested nearly $11 million to help advance enhanced geothermal systems.

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