Geothermal Industry Holds Strong Amid Challenges

Walking the exhibit hall at the 2011 Geothermal Expo in San Diego, Calif., you’d be hard-pressed to find anything but high energy and enthusiasm — impressive for an industry that only saw one project go online in the U.S. in the past year. But hope is prevalent as each company strives to carry on and plan for the future. 

“We’ve got another 700 megawatts (MW) of projects that are in the active building and construction phase right now,” said Karl Gawell, director of the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA). Watch more of Gawell’s industry outlook below.

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The project pipeline looks full, and companies are well aware of what needs to be done to get the line flowing: policy standards and simplified permitting procedures. While a call for policy is prevalent across all renewables, permitting troubles have hit the geothermal industry especially hard. Many projects take at least three to five years to get past the paperwork. “We need to cut project times in half without short-circuiting our own safeguard. I think the government, Secretary Salazar, has made a commitment to do that, and we’re trying to make sure they push through,” said Gawell.

While many are pushing Washington for industry standards, others are preparing the workforce. The National Geothermal Academy made its scholarly debut this summer with an intensive eight-week course on all aspects of geothermal development, including how to find resources, build a plant and make a business model.

“We hope to target both scientists and engineers. But we also had some business and policy people as well. The diversity of content is really hitting all aspects of geothermal. It’s a small community; everyone in it wears multiple hats. They get to see the geology, the engineering, and a little about the policy and management side as well,” said Wendy Calvin, director at the Center for Geothermal Energy. Learn more about the program by watching the video below.

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Despite its challenges, the industry continues to grow and evolve — it’s not going anywhere. Said Gawell, “It’s not going to be easy…building a geothermal project is really a struggle, but we’re doing it. We’re building new projects, and what’s really exciting is the new technology, new people, new companies, and a world market that’s really blossoming.”

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Former editor of I hold a MA in Professional Writing and BA in English from the University of Massachusetts and a certificate in Professional Communications: Writing from Emerson College.

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