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Gigawatts of Geothermal: JASON Study Highlights Huge Potential for EGS

February 21, 2014 - 3:46pm

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JASON study members take in the landscape at Sugarloaf, an 86,000-year-old rhyolite dome in eastern California, and among the youngest dated volcanoes in the field. Andy Sabin (right), director of the Navy Geothermal Program Office, led the field trip to the Coso geothermal field, where the Navy generates 270 megawatts of geothermal power. | Photo courtesy of Michael Gregg

JASON study members take in the landscape at Sugarloaf, an 86,000-year-old rhyolite dome in eastern California, and among the youngest dated volcanoes in the field. Andy Sabin (right), director of the Navy Geothermal Program Office, led the field trip to the Coso geothermal field, where the Navy generates 270 megawatts of geothermal power. | Photo courtesy of Michael Gregg

A new study commissioned by the Energy Department’s Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) highlights the vast potential for enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) to provide clean, reliable, and sustainable energy to millions of American homes and businesses.

JASON – an independent advisory group of world-class scientists that has historically consulted with the federal government on science and technology– conducted a comprehensive analysis of opportunities for widespread development and deployment of EGS technologies.

The conclusions of the JASON study support GTO’s long-term strategy for EGS development, which includes using EGS at existing hydrothermal fields and eventually deploying the technology nationwide. The findings suggest this approach has potential to access 5-10 gigawatts of additional electricity in the near-term, with a pathway towards unlocking a significantly larger resource as the industry overcomes key technical challenges. The study also highlights specific opportunities to advance drilling technologies, improve subsurface characterization, and increase operational efficiency, all of which would reduce the risk and cost of EGS.

To generate renewable power around the clock, EGS projects capture energy from intensely hot rocks, buried thousands of feet below the surface, that lack the permeability or fluid saturation found in naturally occurring geothermal systems.  The U.S. Geological Survey estimates this vast, untapped geothermal resource is between 100 and 500 gigawatts, enough to power millions of American homes.

Generating electricity through EGS results in little to no greenhouse gas emissions, supplies baseload electricity without the need for energy storage technologies, and enables geothermal energy to be developed beyond the western states, where most of America’s hydrothermal sources are located. 

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