$70 Million Aims to Improve Geothermal Technology

Geothermal energy has the advantage of producing clean energy around the clock as opposed to wind and solar power, which — for now — produce energy only when the sun shines and the wind blows. But geothermal’s high upfront costs and long development times have made it difficult for the industry to keep pace with other renewable sources.

So when the U.S. Department of Energy opened up $70 million in new funding over the next three years, it did so with a specific purpose in mind. The money, the department said, will not go to projects, but will instead go to research and development. And the aim will be to advance technology and techniques that would drive down costs of implementation.

The department hopes that advancements in the exploration of potential new geothermal energy sources and improvements in engineering and drilling techniques will make forging ahead with new geothermal plants more viable to developers.

This has been an area of concern for the industry, which saw just one geothermal plant go online in 2010. The United States, though, remains a world leader in geothermal energy production with 3,102 megawatts of capacity, a majority of which is produced in California. According to the Geothermal Energy Association, the geothermal industry is currently developing 123 confirmed geothermal projects, about half of which are in Nevada. These projects are in the various stages of planning and development, and the long development time means some of these could see benefits from improved technology.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, tapping into new geothermal resources could add up to 30 gigawatts of renewable energy to the U.S. supply. Making geothermal systems more efficient could have an even greater impact.

“By investing in geothermal technologies, we are also investing in our nation’s energy future and creating opportunities for energy innovation in the United States,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The United States remains a global leader in geothermal energy development, and we can leverage our experience to develop more energy here at home while increasing our competitiveness in the global clean energy economy.”

The Department of Energy said its funding will support continued partnerships with industry, national laboratories and academia to advance several key research areas. These areas include:

  • Advanced exploratory drilling technologies.
  • Advanced well completion technologies.
  • Tools to isolate fracture zones within a well. These projects will work to control injection and production of water in geothermal systems.
  • Observation tools and data collection system to monitor and optimize reservoir creation.
  • Geophysical exploration technologies will include remote sensing, improved data processing and advanced seismic surveying technologies to better locate hidden resources.
  • Geochemistry and rock-fluid interactions will focus on better characterizing geothermal resources and predicting reservoir temperatures.

A description of the solicitation, eligibility requirements, and application instructions can be found on the Funding Opportunity Exchange website.