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Miles Below the Earth: The Next-Generation of Geothermal Energy

February 7, 2011 - 12:34pm


For more than a century, traditional geothermal power plants have been generating electricity by extracting pockets of steam found miles below the Earth’s surface. Until recently though, those plants could only be constructed in locations where pockets of steam had formed naturally. Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) have been crafted to solve that problem and take the possibilities of geothermal energy even further—essentially creating man-made reservoirs that mimic naturally occurring pockets of steam— with the potential for use as a reliable, 24/7 source of renewable energy.

Central to enhanced geothermal systems technology is the large volume of hot rock that lie beneath the Earth’s surface—a vast resource accessible anywhere in the United States. Essentially, an enhanced geothermal system harnesses thermal energy contained in subsurface hot rock for use as a power source. It is accessed by drilling deep wells into hot rock, fracturing the rock, and circulating a fluid through the wells to extract heat—producing the same energy as generated with traditional geothermal systems, in a lot more places. 

As an abundant source of clean energy, enhanced geothermal systems have the potential to become an important contributor to the U.S. energy portfolio. Still, there’s much work to be done to maximize the potential of next-generation, geothermal technology. The Department has selected 47 projects for the research, development and demonstration of enhanced geothermal system technologies. These investments will ensure wider availability of this clean, carbon free energy at a lower cost than ever before and help jumpstart the geothermal industry across the United States.

To learn more about Enhanced geothermal systems, visit the Geothermal Technologies Progam page.

John Schueler is a New Media Specialist in the Office of Public Affairs.