Bioenergy, Geothermal, Utility Scale

Utility-Scale Geothermal Turns 50

Renewables are often seen as “new.” In fact, they are the original energies. Wind, water, biomass and the earth’s heat have been used for thousands of years. Being able to harness those resources on a mass-scale is what’s new.

Geothermal is perhaps the most constant and reliable of all modern renewables. And this year maks the 50th anniversary of the first large-scale geothermal power plant in the U.S. – a development that spawned a multi-gigawatt industry for heat and power.

Half a century ago, just north of San Francisco, construction began on The Geysers, the nation’s first commercial geothermal site. Now an extensive complex of geothermal energy production, the Geysers has come a long way from its beginnings as a single 11-megawatt power plant.

It set both the state of California and the nation on a path toward strong and steady geothermal growth during the ensuing five decades, and now produces enough electricity to power a city the size of San Francisco. Since the Geysers began operation, the United States has become the world leader in geothermal energy production and geothermal energy is the largest renewable source of energy in the state of California, providing 5% of the state’s electric power.

And California is no longer alone in geothermal production. Approximately 3,086 Megawatts of installed capacity is produced by 77 plants in nine states. Just last year, seven new plants were brought online. Currently 188 projects in 15 different states are in consideration or under in development. Those developing projects could triple geothermal capacity over the next decade.

“These numbers are impressive,” said Karl Gawell, the Geothermal Energy Association’s executive director. “In the past 50 years, geothermal energy has blazed the trail for renewable power in this nation. But this industry has not yet peaked.”

The Geothermal Energy Association is using this 50-year anniversary to promote its upcoming geothermal conference in Sacramento this October 24-27.