Geothermal energy is one of the most widely available green energy sources in the world today. In spite of its availability, its consumption is almost miniscule when compared to wind and solar energy mainly due to high drilling costs that are associated with it.
Geothermal energy can actually help reduce the cost of conventional fuel, reduce rising greenhouse gases, help combat climate change and reduce the dependence on conventional fossil fuels. Researchers at the University of North Dakota even believe that geothermal energy has the potential to be one of the biggest contributors to the U.S. energy portfolio. So, how is it possible to economically tap this massive source of clean energy that is been trapped beneath the Earth?
Oil and gas drillers can play an important part in developing geothermal energy
Every single barrel of oil also brings out close to seven barrels of boiling hot water which can be utilized to generate electricity through geothermal turbines. "Oil- and gas-producing sedimentary basins in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and North Dakota contain formation waters of a temperature that is adequate for geothermal power production," said researchers Anna Crowell and Will Gosnold in a paper that appeared in Journal Geosphere. Related: Day Of Reckoning For U.S. Shale Will Have To Wait
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"Denver-Julesberg Basin (which spans Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado, and has a surface area of approx. 155,000 square kilometers) has the highest capacity for large-scale, economically feasible geothermal power production”, said Researchers in a press release
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Could geothermal energy ever prove to be cost effective?
Since last year’s oil price collapse, drilling and oil field services companies have slashed thousands of jobs in order to reduce their operational costs and remain afloat in the market. Related: How To Clean Up The Oceans While Making Alternative Fuels
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With the overall rig-count in the U.S. falling by more the 1,130 since last year, can any geothermal company stage a coup using the oil industry’s rejects by making the geothermal technology cost competitive?
A report released in April this year stated that Continental Resources and Hungary based MOL group were testing a system that could generate electricity by using hot water that is present in the oil well. With close to 25 billion gallons of water used by U.S. drillers on an annual basis, this system (if developed commercially in the near future) could generate electricity, which would be the equivalent to three coal fired plants running 24 hours a day, thereby reducing overall costs. Related: Is Oil Trending? How Twitter Influences Oil Price Volatility
Continental Resources is collaborating with the University of North Dakota for its geothermal project. The team connected the boiling waste water pipes to the geothermal generators to produce electricity that can be either sold to the grid or connected to the existing power lines. Although its actual commercial application is yet to be realized, according to an estimate made by the U.S. Department of Energy, a single 250 KW geothermal generator used by Continental Resources can generate an additional $100,000 per well on an annual basis. This shows that geothermal energy has the potential to be not only cost effective, but also generate additional revenues and employment for drilling companies.
Who else is backing geothermal energy?
As reported earlier, a U.S. based company called Hypersciences is developing a ‘ram accelerator’ that could make it possible to access geothermal energy at extreme depths (around 2 miles below the ground). If Hypersciences succeeds in its endeavor, it would significantly reduce the geothermal drilling costs which are currently between $5 to $20 million per well as its ‘ram accelerator’ can fire several shots and drill larger holes when compared to conventional drilling. Also, the U.S.-based company is backed by the oil major Shell, which has provided $1 million in funding for the same project. Even the U.S. Department of Energy is encouraging small companies and businesses by providing $20 million in vouchers for exploring geothermal energy through collaborations with the Geothermal Technology Office and its national laboratories.
Although the U.S is the leading global producer of geothermal energy, it contributes only a small fraction of its overall energy consumption. However, geothermal energy can provide drilling companies with the much needed ‘green credential’ as it produces less carbon than other power sources. Still, the biggest and most important limitation is the high cost of drilling associated with it. Although there are some new and promising developments made by researchers and companies like Hypersciences, geothermal energy can only go main stream once the costs associated with it come down. Geothermal energy indeed deserves the attention that it is now getting.
By Gaurav Agnihotri of Oilprice.com
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