The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Enhanced Geothermal: Frack or Friction?

In a geothermal sector hit hard by the shaky financial markets, one might think that capital-hungry enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) companies would be feeling the pinch. But the opposite seems to be true: Buoyed by stronger-than-ever government support and interest from venture capitalists, 2010 turned out to be a pretty good year for the EGS industry.

EGS development is much more difficult – and is therefore much less mature – than traditional geothermal power development. Rather than use hot water hundreds or thousands of feet underground to generate steam to run a turbine, EGS utilizes the constant heat stored in hot rocks more than a mile deep. Companies engineer their own wells by pumping cold water through the bedrock, letting it heat up as it works its way through natural fractures, and pumping it back to the surface to generate electricity. It sounds straightforward in theory. In practice, it's not easy.

There's still a way to go before EGS production reaches commercial scale in the U.S. The technical challenges associated with drilling extremely deep wells, fracturing the hard rock, getting water flow rates right and monitoring what's happening underground loom large for developers.

However, with more governments and early-stage investors supporting EGS around the world, the resources are increasingly available to meet those challenges.

After years of stop-and-start funding for geothermal in the U.S., the Department of Energy received over $400 million through the stimulus package for geothermal programs. Around $150 million was targeted specifically for EGS companies to help them develop new drilling technologies, site characterization evaluation methods, performance-monitoring systems and project demonstrations. Project developers like AltaRock Energy, Ormat and Geyser's Power Co., have received substantial amounts of money from the DOE.

Google and venture-capital giants like Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures have also swooped into the space, looking for disruptive renewable energy technologies that have strong, consistent government backing. (Although these investors still have concerns about the lack of broader policies like long-term tax credits, a carbon price and a federal renewable energy target).

In Australia, the government plans to release over $250 million in funds to project developers and technology companies over the next few years. And in Germany, France and the UK, where there are feed-in tariffs available for EGS projects, companies are moving ahead with both demonstration-scale and commercial-scale projects. (In fact, the first small-scale commercial plant, at almost 4 MW of capacity, was built in Germany).

The International Geothermal Association says that there could be around 80,000 MW of EGS projects completed globally in the next 40 years. Much of that development will be in the U.S. and Australia. But the great thing about EGS is that it can be developed almost anywhere – as shown by all the projects underway in Europe, a region lacking traditional hydrothermal resources.

However, even with all this support, progress has been somewhat slow in the industry. Back in 2007, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a report on the immense potential of EGS, there was a surge of interest in the sector. The promise of hundreds of thousands of MW of limitless energy made for an exciting story. But setbacks have been common: Australia's GeoDynamics delayed a project for more than a year due to an explosion and subsequent flooding of a well; U.S.-based AltaRock Energy stopped development of a California project due to a collapsed well; and an urban project in Basel, Switzerland was abandoned due to concerns about seismic activity.

Things seem to be getting better for some companies though. AltaRock has started a new project in Oregon, backed by $25 million in DOE funds and $21 million in venture capital. And this summer GeoDynamics announced that its 1-MW project in southern Australia and 25-MW project in northeastern Australia are back on schedule.

Experts watching the sector believe the technical issues will eventually get worked out. But as these experiences have proven, development in the EGS space over the next five years will be incremental, not dramatic – even with all the money pouring into the space.

In this week's podcast, we'll have a roundtable discussion with Charles Baron of Google, JoAnn Milliken of the DOE and Will Osborn of AltaRock about specific project developments, technical improvements and the overall prospects for EGS. We taped the conversation at the Geothermal Conference and Expo in Sacramento, California this week.

To listen to the roundtable, launch the podcast player above. For a look at how EGS works, check out the video below.

Untitled Document


States Already Seek To Delay Clean Power Plan

Andrew Harris, Bloomberg Fifteen states led by coal-rich West Virginia asked a federal court to stall Obama administration rules intended to c...

Global Renewable Energy Roundup: China, Kenya, Turkey, India Seeking More Renewables

Bloomberg News Editors China is being encouraged by three industry groups to double the nation’s solar-power goal for 2020 to make up for sh...

With Vast Amounts of Geothermal, Wind and Hydropower, Why No Solar In New Zealand?

James Ellsmoor, Contributor New Zealand has built an international brand on environmentalism and the great outdoors. So it is unsurprising that t...

Don’t Like Obama’s Clean Power Plan? Fine, Here’s Cap and Trade

Mark Drajem and Lynn Doan, Bloomberg Republican governors who boycott the Obama administration’s new power-plant regulations may instead get an offer they...


Free ImagineSolar Online Course Demonstration

ImagineSolar will be holding another live demonstration of PV250e: Solar PV Economics a...

Canadian Solar Announces Partnership in 200 MW Tranquility Solar Power Project

Recurrent Energy signed an agreement with Southern Power to partner on the Tranquility ...

AWS Truepower Announces Major Expansion of its Due Diligence Team in Response to Growing Market Demand

AWS Truepower, an international leader in wind and solar energy consulting and engineer...


NATiVE Recognized for Excellence at 2015 Greater Austin Business Awards

NATiVE Recognized for Excellence at 2015 Greater Austin Business Awards NEWS RELEASE AUSTIN, Texas – Aug. 27...

Solar Energy Means Jobs, Savings, and a Low-Cost Future [infographic]

There are a lot of utility-sponsored legislative and regulatory attacks on solar energy lately, and we put together t...

How To Get People To Do Stuff

It’s no secret that psychology and sales go hand in hand. If you understand the principles of human psychology ...


I am a reporter with, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in to...


Volume 18, Issue 4


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



International Energy and Sustainability Conference 2015

The fourth International Energy and Sustainability Conference will be he...

GRC Workshop at Indonesian International Geothermal Convention & Ex...

The Geothermal Conceptual Model & Well Targeting The Geothermal Me...

2015 AREDAY Summit

The 12th Annual AREDAY Summit, August 8-13th in Snowmass Colorado. Engag...


Why Electric Utilities Love Geothermal

When it comes time to think about replacing the heating and cooling syst...

Clean Energy Patents Maintain High Levels in First Quarter, Solar L...

U.S. patents for Clean Energy technologies from the first quarter of 201...

Registration Opens for GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo

GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Expo:   Register Now for the 2015 GRC ...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now