By unlocking the Earth’s nearly inexhaustible supply of heat resources, the Department of Energy plans to make enhanced geothermal systems a widespread renewable energy option in the United States.
To kickstart the goal, the DOE says it will cut the cost of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) by 90% to $45 per megawatt hour by 2035. More than 5 terawatts of heat resources, which the DOE says could provide enough energy to meet the electricity needs of the entire world, exist in the US.
Capturing even a little of that energy would significantly help the country toward clean energy targets, including President Biden’s goal of using 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050. The EGS goal is part of the DOE’s Energy Earthshots program, which also includes hydrogen, long-duration storage, and carbon-neutral targets.
The DOE says the EGS program will move geothermal technology from research and development to commercial adoption. Geothermal energy currently generates approximately 3.7 gigawatts of electricity in the US, and geothermal power plants emit 99% less carbon dioxide than fossil fuel-powered facilities, according to the Energy Information Administration.
However, the DOE says most geothermal energy potential is not accessible with existing technology.
EGS resources are located at least 4,000 feet underground, with extremely hot temperatures, abrasive rocks, and a corrosive environment that comes with a variety of unknowns, the DOE says. EGS is a process of creating underground reservoirs by injecting fluid into naturally heated rocks to draw the geothermal energy to the surface.
The EGS program will accelerate research and development, improve engineering, produce more wells, and capture more energy, according to the DOE.
Investments in the program include $44 million to help stimulate EGS innovations for the DOE’s Frontier Observatory for Geothermal Energy Research field laboratory and up to $165 million to advance both EGS and conventional geothermal energy. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also includes $84 million for four pilot EGS demonstration projects.
Unlocking the clean energy will also help increase the implementation of technologies for geothermal heating and cooling, which could significantly help buildings reach net zero.
Google integrated a geothermal pile system into its 42-acre Bay View campus, which the company says is the largest integrated system in North America. Other geothermal energy examples include Boston University using underground heat exchangers to provide nearly all the heating and cooling needs for its new Center for Computing and Data Sciences, and Smith College broke ground on a geothermal project that it says will cut the school’s emissions by 90% by 2030.
“The United States has a vast, geothermal energy resource lying right beneath our feet, and this program will make it economical to bring that power to American households and businesses,” says US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.