2011 Looking Good for Geothermal

Last week’s extension of the Treasury Grant Program (TGP) for renewable energy project developers was big news for the geothermal industry. Without the program, a number of companies would have had to stall projects; with it, hundreds of megawatts of power plants are back on the table.

Shortly after the TGP extension, the Geothermal Energy Association released an update on how the market will fair in 2011. While there were only a handful of American power plants built in 2010, the budding development pipeline may bring a number of projects to fruition next year. Here’s a snap-shot of the industry, as outlined by the GEA:

New Scene, New Congress, New Jobs – Outlook for 2011: As 2011 unfolds there will be a new surge in geothermal power projects. Around 500 to 700 MW of power projects should enter their final construction phase, adding approximately 3,000 construction jobs. The geothermal sector is also growing in diversity, with almost half of federal stimulus awards going to non-industry entities such as colleges and universities; cities, counties, and other state and local institutions; tribal entities; and The Department of Energy’s National Labs.

Geothermal Development Earns Unprecedented Funding: In the past year the Department of Energy (DOE) funded geothermal research, development, and demonstration projects in 50 states, including DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Program which received over $50 million in support and completed action on its nearly $400 million in Recovery Act grants.

Not Just a Western States Industry: The industry is expanding into new regions with the support of increased funding and technological advancements. Up to 18,900 MW of potentially exploitable geothermal resources were discovered in West Virginia in 2010. The development of co-produced geothermally heated water from hydrocarbon production has led to a number of oil and gas geothermal coproduction projects in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Dakota. (Although, as we recently reported, companies are facing troubles in making projects pencil out).

Industry Strengthens Regional Initiatives: The industry is working with collaborative state and regional efforts, as well as other renewable groups, to ensure transmission networks and policies support new geothermal development. The Western Electricity Coordinating Council and the Western Governors’ Association have over $25 million in DOE funding to develop 10 and 20-year transmission plans for the Western Interconnection. GEA also publicly opposed California Proposition 23, which was defeated by California voters in November.

Geothermal Industry Grows Abroad: New projects or extensions were brought on line over the past year in Turkey, Italy, and Kenya. Chile, Central America, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, and parts of Africa and Europe saw much geothermal development activity, especially in early stages, such as the purchase of geothermal concessions, explorations, policy development, and drilling operations.

Geothermal projects can take up to 5 years to build, so the industries with faster turnover (solar and wind) often get more attention. But increased government funding and a large development pipeline could make 2011 a record year for the geothermal industry.

Below is a good video overview we put together this fall from the Geothermal Conference and Expo on how the geothermal industry is fairing.

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