Market changes and an investment of $800 million to $1 billion over 15 years could bring more than 100 GW of geothermal energy to the US grid by 2050, according to a study recently released by a multi-disciplinary research group at MIT. That investment, is less than the cost of a single “new generation” coal-powered plant, and the amount of energy is equivalent to 200 coal-fired power plants or 100 new nuclear power plants.
The report says the heat that lies in the rock six miles beneath Oregon’s Newberry Volcano alone could provide 2,500 times as much energy as the United States currently uses. MIT's research follows up research published last year by Southern Methodist University (SMU). SMU research shows that the U.S. houses more than 2.98 million megawatts of geothermal energy that could be tapped by advanced geothermal technologies.
The “deep geothermal power” that lies beneath the Newberry Volcano requires “Enhanced Geothermal Systems” (EGS) to pump water down into the hot rock, and then back to the surface (sometimes as steam) to power generators at the surface. This system produces zero emissions, and, unlike wind and solar, provides energy at a consistent level that outperforms coal plants.
The only existing power plants of this kind are in Soultz-Sous-Forets, France, and Landau, Germany. These operate on a much smaller scale (the Landau plant produces 22 gigawat hours per year for the European grid) than what is being proposed in the US. Scientists say the technology to replicate this model on a large scale is close, but remains unproven.
Concerns about the possibility that the “hydrofracking” process may cause earthquakes can also be sited as a reason this potential energy source remains largely untapped.
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