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US Geothermal Capacity Could Top 10 GW

A new report by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) shows growth in new geothermal power projects continuing through 2009. U.S. Geothermal Power Production and Development Update, September 2009 identifies 144 new geothermal projects under development in fourteen states that could represent as much as 7,100 megawatts (MW) of new baseload power capacity. When added to the 3,100 MW of existing capacity, 10 gigawatts of geothermal power appears to be feasible.

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Geothermal Basics

Geothermal Power: is power extracted from heat stored in the earth. This geothermal energy originates from the original formation of the planet, from radioactive decay of minerals, and from solar energy absorbed at the surface. It has been used for space heating and bathing since ancient roman times, but is now better known for generating electricity.

Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable, and environmentally friendly, but has previously been geographically limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries. Recent technological advances have dramatically expanded the range and size of viable resources, especially for direct applications such as home heating. Geothermal wells tend to release greenhouse gases trapped deep within the earth, but these emissions are much lower than those of conventional fossil fuels. As a result, this technology has the potential to help mitigate global warming if widely deployed.


Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs, Nevada.
Learn about geothermal energy and enhanced geothermal systems. Discover answers to your questions in the Frequently Asked Questions section. Read about some of the successes and awards achieved by DOE geothermal technologies and researchers. Learn about the history of geothermal development.

Several geothermal power plants at The Geysers
Geothermal Overview:

Several geothermal power plants at The Geysers. Heat from the Earth, or geothermal — Geo (Earth) + thermal (heat) — energy can be and already is accessed by drilling water or steam wells in a process similar to drilling for oil. Geothermal energy is an enormous, underused heat and power resource that is clean (emits little or no greenhouse gases), reliable (average system availability of 95%), and homegrown (making us less dependent on foreign oil).

A diamond-studded drill bit developed at Sandia National Laboratories.
Geothermal resources range from shallow ground to hot water and rock several miles below the Earth's surface, and even farther down to the extremely hot molten rock called magma. Mile-or-more-deep wells can be drilled into underground reservoirs to tap steam and very hot water that can be brought to the surface for use in a variety of applications. In the U.S., most geothermal reservoirs are located in the western states, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Mile-or-more-deep wells can be drilled into underground reservoirs to tap steam and very hot water that drive turbines that drive electricity generators. Three types of power plants are operating today:

Dry steam plants, which directly use geothermal steam to turn turbines.

Flash steam plants, which pull deep, high-pressure hot water into lower-pressure tanks and use the resulting flashed steam to drive turbines.

Binary-cycle plants, which pass moderately hot geothermal water by a secondary fluid with a much lower boiling point than water. This causes the secondary fluid to flash to vapor, which then drives the turbines.

Direct-Use Piped Hot Water Warms Greenhouses and Melts Sidewalk Snow.
In the U.S., most geothermal reservoirs are located in the western states, Alaska, and Hawaii. Hot water near Earth's surface can be piped directly into facilities and used to heat buildings, grow plants in greenhouses, dehydrate onions and garlic, heat water for fish farming, and pasteurize milk. Some cities pipe the hot water under roads and sidewalks to melt snow. District heating applications use networks of piped hot water to heat buildings in whole communities. For more information on direct use of geothermal energy.

orld's Largest Heat Pump System in Louisville, KY.
Geothermal Heat Pumps (GHPs)

Use Shallow Ground Energy to Heat and Cool Buildings World's Largest Heat Pump System in Louisville, KY. Almost everywhere, the upper 10 feet of Earth's surface maintains a nearly constant temperature between 50 and 60°F (10 and 16°C). A geothermal heat pump system consists of pipes buried in the shallow ground near the building, a heat exchanger, and ductwork into the building. In winter, heat from the relatively warmer ground goes through the heat exchanger into the house. In summer, hot air from the house is pulled through the heat exchanger into the relatively cooler ground. Heat removed during the summer can be used as no-cost energy to heat water.

The Future of Geothermal Energy
This 3,000 sq. ft. house in Oklahoma City
has a verified average electric bill of $60 per month - using a geothermal heat pump.
The three technologies discussed above use only a tiny fraction of the total geothermal resource. Several miles everywhere beneath Earth's surface is hot, dry rock being heated by the molten magma directly below it. Technology is being developed to drill into this rock, inject cold water down one well, circulate it through the hot, fractured rock, and draw off the heated water from another well. One day, we might also be able to recover heat directly from the magma.

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Making Geothermal More Productive
University of Utah Institute plans to
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