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

Is West Virginia a Geothermal Hot Spot?

When you think of geothermal, West Virginia probably doesn't come to mind. But a team of researchers at Southern Methodist University, funded by, has found that geothermal resources in the state are capable of supporting large-scale power plants for baseload electricity production.

The SMU Geothermal Laboratory recently said it has increased its estimate of West Virginia’s geothermal generation potential to 18,890 megawatts (assuming a conservative 2% thermal recovery rate). The new estimate represents a 75 percent increase over estimates in MIT’s 2006 “The Future of Geothermal Energy” report and exceeds the state’s total current generating capacity, primarily coal based, of 16,350 megawatts.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that much geothermal will get developed. But the analysis suggests that West Virginia could be a good spot for some large-scale power plants.

The West Virginia discovery is the result of new detailed mapping and interpretation of temperature data derived from oil, gas, and thermal gradient wells – part of an ongoing project to update the Geothermal Map of North America that SMU’s Geothermal Lab Director David Blackwell produced with colleague Maria Richards in 2004.  Temperatures below the Earth almost always increase with depth, but the rate of increase (the thermal gradient) varies due to factors such as the thermal properties of the rock formations.

“By adding 1,455 new thermal data points from oil, gas, and water wells to our geologic model of West Virginia, we’ve discovered significantly more heat than previously thought,” Blackwell said. “The existing oil and gas fields in West Virginia provide a geological guide that could help reduce uncertainties associated with geothermal exploration and also present an opportunity for co-producing geothermal electricity from hot waste fluids generated by existing oil and gas wells.”

The high temperature zones beneath West Virginia revealed by the new mapping are concentrated in the eastern portion of the state (Figure 1). Starting at depths of 4.5 km (greater than 15,000 feet), temperatures reach over 150°C (300°F), which is hot enough for commercial geothermal power production. 

Traditionally, commercial geothermal energy production has depended on high temperatures in existing subsurface reservoirs to produce electricity, requiring unique geological conditions found almost exclusively in tectonically active regions of the world, such as the western United States. Newer technologies and drilling methods can be used to develop resources in wider ranges of geologic conditions. Three non-conventional geothermal resources that can be developed in areas with little or no tectonic activity or volcanism such as West Virginia are:

  • Low-Temperature Hydrothermal — Energy is produced from areas with naturally occurring high fluid volumes at temperatures ranging from 80°C (165°F) to 150°C (300°F) using advanced binary cycle technology. Low-Temperature systems have been developed in Alaska, Oregon, and Utah.
  • Geopressure and Co-produced Fluids Geothermal – Oil and/or natural gas produced together with hot geothermal fluids drawn from the same well. Geopressure and Co-produced Fluids systems are currently operating or under development in Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
  • Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) – Areas with low natural rock permeability but high temperatures of more than 150°C (300°F) are “enhanced” by injecting fluid and other reservoir engineering techniques. EGS resources are typically deeper than hydrothermal and represent the largest share of total geothermal resources. EGS is being pursued globally in Germany, Australia, France, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. EGS is being tested in deep sedimentary basins similar to West Virginia’s in Germany and Australia.

“The early West Virginia research is very promising,” Blackwell said, “but we still need more information about local geological conditions to refine estimates of the magnitude, distribution, and commercial significance of their geothermal resource.”

A summary of the research can be found here.

Funding for the research was provided by’s RE<C initiative. As part of an effort to deploy baseload, renewable energy technologies, Google has made a number of investments in geothermal companies including AltaRock Energy and Potter Drilling.

If you're in the mood for a longer panel discussion, check out the video below. It features Google's CEO Eric Schmidt and's Dan Riecher talking about the company's clean energy investment strategy.

Untitled Document

Get All the Renewable Energy World News Delivered to Your Inbox - FREE!

Subscribe to Renewable Energy World Magazine and our award-winning e-Newsletter to stay up to date on current news and industry trends.

 Subscribe Now



Multinational Bank Financing of Geothermal Exploration Up 11 Percent from 2012

Jennifer Delony Financing of geothermal energy exploration by multinational banks has increased 11 percent, up from 6 percent in 2012...

CEO Gilles: Challenge in Geothermal is to 'Level Playing Field' with Wind, Solar

Jennifer Delony The current challenge for the geothermal energy industry is what U.S. Geothermal CEO Dennis Gilles calls “leveling th...

Top 5 Reasons To Be Optimistic About Geothermal in the US

Jennifer Delony Joe Greco, Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) board chairman and Terra-Gen Power senior vice president, outlined the...

DOE Releases Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Hawaii

Jennifer Delony DOE released a final programmatic environmental impact statement for Hawaii to provide federal, state and county gove...


Solar Power World Ranks Florida Solar One a Top 400 Solar Installer

Florida Solar One, a Miami Fort Lauderdale solar contractor is ranked among the top sol...

US Solar Institute Chosen for Military Solar Training at Patrick Air Force Base

In August 2015, the Air Force chose The US Solar Institute (USSI) for a specialized sol...

Canadian Solar Signs Agreement with Mashiki Town and Kumamoto Prefecture to Build 47 MW Solar Plant in Japan

Canadian Solar Signs Agreement for 47 MW Solar Plant

NC State University Installs Student-Funded Spotlight Solar Structure to Drive Awareness and Adoption of Clean Energy

North Carolina State University (NC State) will today showcase its commitment to clean ...



Geothermal Visual: GEA, Clean Energy Organizations Tell Congress: We Need Tax Extenders 'As Soon As Possible'

In a letter dated Oct. 5, over 580 signatories representing clean energy industries, including Geothermal Energy Asso...

Why the Solar PV Industry Should Love Geothermal Heat Pumps Part 3

It’s a marriage made in heaven: Solar PV and Geothermal Heat Pumps Part 3 of a 6-Part Series Geothermal Heat ...

Beyond Utility 2.0: Part 4 “Next Steps”

Principles, Structure, and Policies of Energy Democracy Energy democracy can best be described as an electricity sy...


Renewable Energy World's network editors help deliver the most comprehensive news coverage of the renewable energy industries. Based in the U.S. and the UK, the team is comprised of editors from Pennwell Corporation's myriad of publications that ...


Volume 18, Issue 4


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


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



GRC Fieldtrip - Long Valley Geology

Led by: Gene Suemnicht and Duncan Foley     &nb...

GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo

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

GeoPower & Heat Summit

The GeoPower & Heat Summit is the most commercial event in the geoth...


Geothermal Event - We've got an app for that!

GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo has gone mobile! We...

Final Program Now Available for GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal...

GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo - Final Program f...

GRC Annual Geothermal Photo Contest - View all the Entries

36th Annual Geothermal Photo Contest The Geothermal Resources


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now