Major Plans for Geothermal Energy Development Across U.S.

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geothermal power plant

The U.S. is developing its geothermal energy capacity through investment in research and development, as well as several new production projects across the country. National policies and schemes, such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office’s (GTO) 2022-2026 Multi-Year Program Plan (MYPP), have spurred investment in the sector with more growth expected to follow. Some states are taking the lead when it comes to conventional geothermal energy development, while other regions are focusing on enhanced geothermal systems, which have the potential to offer far greater power from geothermal reserves in future years. 

National Policies Support Geothermal Development

There are a variety of geothermal energy systems, including direct use and district heating systems, geothermal power plants, and geothermal heat pumps, which use either the Earth’s high temperatures near the surface or drill miles down to access higher temperatures. Geothermal energy can be used for heating or cooling purposes, as well as to generate clean electricity by using high or medium-temperature resources in tectonically active regions of the world. 

The GTO launched its Multi-Year Program Plan in 2022 to build on the findings of the previous GeoVision analysis and better understand the geothermal potential in the U.S. It establishes three strategic goals for 2022 to 2026, which are:

  • Strategic Goal 1: Drive toward a carbon-free electricity grid by supplying 60 gigawatts (GW) of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) and hydrothermal resource deployment by 2050.
  • Strategic Goal 2: Decarbonize building heating and cooling loads by capturing the economic potential of 17,500 geothermal district heating installations and by installing geothermal heat pumps in 28 million households nationwide by 2050.
  • Strategic Goal 3: Deliver economic, environmental, and social justice advancements through increased geothermal technology deployment.

This plan is supported by the Biden administration’s 2022 IRA, which raised the geothermal federal tax credit from 26% to 30% until 2032 and offers other financial incentives to companies developing geothermal energy projects across the country. Since the launch of the IRA, the GTO has announced several funding opportunities for geothermal projects, with a particular focus on research and development into new technologies. 

Some States are Taking the Lead

Some states are supporting the development of conventional geothermal projects, encouraged by the introduction of tax credits and other financial incentives. Minnesota is expanding its networked geothermal systems thanks to new bills introduced by state legislators to encourage greater uptake. These systems consist of ground-source heat pumps that deliver low-carbon heating and cooling to buildings. Some examples include the thermal energy network developed in Rochester’s city hall, and the geothermal systems serving Carleton College and The Heights, a development on St. Paul’s East Side where over 1,000 people will reside and another 1,000 will work. Projects such as these can help reduce both heating and cooling-related carbon emissions and cut energy costs. 

Luke Gaalswyk, the president and CEO of St. Paul-based Ever-Green Energy, stated, “There’s a lot of excitement building around networked geothermal.” Meanwhile, Joe Dammel, the managing director for buildings at policy non-profit Fresh Energy, explained, “We think that there’s tremendous potential from network geothermal… The studies being considered and the number of bills at the Legislature right now are only going to help us understand the technical and economic potential of geothermal.”

Massive Advances Being Seen in Enhanced Geothermal Systems

Other regions of the U.S. are investing in research and development into enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) with the hope of extracting even greater amounts of energy. Fervo Energy is one of the companies working to develop EGS, which is supported by government funding. In July last year, Fervo announced it had successfully operated Project Red – a geothermal well around 200 miles northeast of Reno – over a 30-day test period. During this test, it produced 3.5 MW of electricity, more than any other enhanced geothermal facility worldwide. This offered greater optimism about the future of geothermal energy production in the U.S. 

EGS works by injecting water at high pressure into deep rocks to re-open natural fractures that have closed over time, allowing hot water or steam to flow into extraction wells. The continuous injection of water helps these fractures stay open for water to be heated and extracted to generate electricity. 

The DoE is investing heavily in research into EGS, announcing plans to invest $60 million to demonstrate the efficacy and scalability of EGS in March this year. The DoE plans to award the funds to three projects – Chevron New Energies, Fervo Energy, and Mazama Energy. Currently, geothermal energy accounts for less than 1% of U.S. electricity, but that could soon change as EGS could more than double the amount of recoverable geothermal energy in the U.S. and lengthen the life of existing geothermal sites. The development of EGS technology is expected to increase the U.S. geothermal capacity by as much as 20-fold by 2050, which could contribute around 10% of the country’s electricity.

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Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specializing in Energy and Industry. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK, and is now based in Mexico City.

 

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