Recognising the need for innovation, most experts on geothermal power have their sights set on the vast potential and innovative use of low-temperature geothermal resources. Indeed, speaking to REW recently, Halley Dickey of TAS Energy, Karl Gawell of the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), and Doug Glaspey of US Geothermal Inc expressed the crucial importance of research and development in the geothermal industry.
The U.S. geothermal power industry is poised for a bit more rapid growth now that the U.S. Department of Energy's geothermal development program is maturing with demonstration-stage pilots. This acceleration of growth also will be spurred on by an increasing number of municipalities and utilities that are turning to geothermal as an alternative energy option for either renewable mandate or investment reasons, industry executives say. While the U.S. geothermal power market is still somewhat tepid in comparison to the international market, U.S. technology exports will help U.S. companies weather the wait for a more rapid domestic market expansion.
Amidst a year of frustrating inactivity in the geothermal industry, many are holding hope for a brighter 2012. The industry holds more than 700 MW of projects in its pipeline to be completed before the federal tax credit expires in 2013. One project that has the upper hand in this race is Gradient Resource's 60-MW Patua project, about 38 miles east of Reno, Nevada, set to go online in late 2012. Gradient has partnered with TAS Energy Inc., a technology provider, and SAIC Inc., a technology applications company.
The U.S. geothermal market adds new projects to its development pipeline each year and 2012 will be no different. The industry will enter January with up to billions of dollars in planned investments. In 2005, geothermal energy became a qualifying renewable for the production tax credit (PTC), sparking new developments and by early 2011, U.S. capacity had swollen to 3,102 MW. Currently, up to 5,745 MW are in development. In May of 2011, Terra-Gen Power and TAS Energy added 2 MW to the 17-MW Beowawe, Nev. plant - the first geothermal project supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to begin operations.
Geothermal energy presents baseload clean energy at a lower cost than many other renewable energy alternatives. Despite this compelling value proposition, long development horizons and the risks associated with exploration and drilling activities present hurdles to developing the country's rich geothermal potential. Financing projects that use conventional geothermal technology remains challenging in the uncertain economic environment.
Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHPs), and their application in geothermal heat extraction, have matured as a technology in recent years. But their take-up varies widely in Europe from country to country. Climatic and geological conditions differ a great deal, and economic circumstances and traditional construction methods are wildly dissimilar.
The case for a low-carbon economy grows stronger with each new extreme weather event that threatens the global food supply.
The annual report counts 15 states with projects currently under consideration or development: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Between confirmed and unconfirmed projects there are a total of 146 geothermal projects in development, the report said.
A large portion of the world's installed geothermal generation capacity is located in North America. The United States has 3,086 MW of installed geothermal capacity and is the world's leading geothermal electricity generator. Mexico ranks fourth with 958 MW and new projects all across the region are underway.