Geothermal energy has been right under our nose, speakers at Enlit Europe say. Or perhaps more appropriately, under our feet.
A diverse lineup of panelists made up the final session at the conference in Paris. The panel took an optimistic and forward-looking tone, with moderator Kristina Hagstrom-Ilievska comparing geothermal’s potential in the context of the climate crisis to the race to put the first man on the moon.
“What seems impossible is not impossible,” said Hagstrom-Ilievska, who is Chief Marketing Officer of Baseload Capital Sweden. “We need to have hope that we can take this giant leap for mankind.”
Geothermal energy is a renewable source derived from the Earth’s internal heat. It can provide 24/7 clean energy for power generation, efficient heating and cooling, agriculture, mineral extraction and more.
Speakers touted geothermal as “always available,” with the ability to ramp up faster than a combined-cycle power plant.
Jeanine Vany, Executive V.P. of Corporate Affairs for Eavor Technologies, said in areas where developers are struggling to put renewables on the grid, geothermal can fill the gap. She said geothermal projects can also leverage domestic supply chains, with developers able to source the steel and cement domestically
The International Energy Agency has long projected geothermal could be a serious solution to climate change. It said in a 2011 roadmap document that geothermal could reach some 3.5% of global electricity generation annually by 2050, avoiding almost 800 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
But that potential has been mostly unrealized up until now.
Speakers noted that over 200 geothermal wells were drilled over the last few years, with the global market expected to grow 5% annually through 2030.
When asked how the momentum for geothermal has evolved over the last few years, Paul Thomsen of Ormat Technologies noted an explosion of new companies and technologies that are now coming to market.
“I think the demand right now is bigger than it’s ever been,” said Thomsen, who is V.P. of Business Development.
Vany echoed that new technologies are drilling “cheaper, deeper and hotter.”
The Oil & Gas industry has started to take notice, with companies like Baker Hughes and Chevron increasing investment in the area.
These companies have increasingly partnered with developers like Fervo Energy, who are utilizing innovations pioneered by the O&G sector. These innovations include horizontal drilling and distributed fiber optic sensing to make reservoirs of hot rock that exist beneath the earth’s surface into practical, economically viable, clean sources of energy.
The costs of building a geothermal power plant are heavily weighted toward up-front expenses rather than fuel to keep them running.
Ajit Menon, V.P. for Geothermal at Baker Hughes, said a lot of geothermal cost issues are related to the time it to takes to drill into the ground.
Menon said the O&G sector has a lot of experience managing and de-risking large drilling projects, leveraging supply chains to drive scale and shorten project timelines.
The United States leads the world in using the Earth’s heat energy for electricity generation, but geothermal still accounts for less than half a percent of the nation’s total utility-scale electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). In 2022, that geothermal power came from California, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, Oregon, Idaho and New Mexico.
Last year, the Energy Department launched an effort to achieve “aggressive cost reductions” in enhanced geothermal systems.
Panelists at Enlit Europe reiterated that we can’t get to net-zero without geothermal energy, but it’s going to take the same resourcefulness that it took to send a man into space.
“The earth has power, it’s time to switch it on,” said Hagstrom-Ilievska.
Originally published in Power Engineering.