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Incredible Geothermal Energy Potential in the United States

By Al Fin | Thu, 17 February 2011 13:50 | 4

USGS estimates 500,000 MWe of EGS geothermal resource potential lies beneath the western United States. This is approximately half of the current installed electric power generating capacity in the United States. _EERE PDF

Geothermal Energy

The US could be producing 32 million times more geothermal electrical power than it does at present.

The U.S. produces more than 100,000 gigawatt-hours per year of geothermal electricity already, but it could produce as much as 3.2 trillion gigawatt-hours.

...the Earth's heat never stops—meaning a geothermal power plant can produce electricity as regularly as a nuclear power plant can. And it also has nearly no emissions of the greenhouse gases causing climate change. _SciAm

Geothermal power plants are currently located in areas with natural hot springs and geysers, such as this planned 15MW plant in the US state Nevada.
Enhanced geothermal will be a whole new ballgame. That is where the lion's share of geothermal power can be tapped, but it will require expensive deep drilling technology which has not yet been perfected for this purpose. It will also require new forms of ultra-deep fracking of hot rock, to enhance deep crustal heat exchange for energy extraction.

The hazard of earthquake-triggering is routinely hyped and inflated, as is natural whenever a genuinely revolutionary energy technology is considered. But deep geothermal drilling cannot create new seismic faults where none exist, nor will the technology increase tension on pre-existing faults. Enhanced geothermal can either drill in seismically active -- or seismically inactive regions. In the inactive regions, there is no problem. For seismically active locations, the technology of enhanced geothermal is more likely to prevent large earthquakes, by facilitating smaller tension-relieving quakes.

The potential is certainly there. But the technology and the economics needs to catch up to the potential. That will take time and investment. By transferring all investment away from wasteful and ineffectual wind and solar, over to technologies with solid 24 hour / 365 day baseload potential, society would be taking a big step forward.

By. Al Fin

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  • Anonymous on February 18 2011 said:
    Great report.One major mistake though, is that such power plants as shown in the accompanying drawing DO produce the worst greenhouse gas...water vapor. Yes, it's true, the most abundant and the worst greenhouse gas in the earth's atmosphere is water vapor.If you subscribe to the global warming hysteria, a simple cure of the plant shown would be a precipitation cooling tower. We already have such technology at work.
  • Anonymous on February 18 2011 said:
    Geothermal energy has incredible potential and needs further investment. Still, I'd question the risks of release of radon and sulfur. Your reference to "wasteful and ineffectual... solar" seems to convey how rooted you are in the last century. Nanotechnology has and will continue to improve the efficiency of solar -- a similarly endless resource. It's major drawback is the lack of corporate monetization, so corporations have less incentive for investment in these technologies.
  • Anonymous on February 19 2011 said:
    simplistically, the descending order of energies in wavelength and particles,(gamma, xray, uv, etc.)put IR on the bottom.there has been some advances in directly converting ir to electricity. these advances could possibly, in the future,(like PV's, but through the mere transfer of heat) accomplish a direct route to usable energy without as much complexity and downside the above illustration depicts.dreaming on, scott
  • Anonymous on August 04 2011 said:
    I want to commend commentor #2 for pointing out the need to contain geothermal fluids and be sure all of it is returned to the deep earth, or scrubbed for extraction. Also the criticism of Al Fin's derision of our other popular fav alternates, wind and solar. However, they are not "endless resources" (solar is diurnal, wind is variable). The main criticism to geothermal is that it is strictly for big business. Small operators need not apply.

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