New geothermal approaches bring massive resources within reach.
Charles W. Thurston is a Fortnightly correspondent based in Sonoma County, Calif. Email him at: email@example.com.
Geothermal power occupies a unique niche in the renewable energy market. Geothermal projects provide dispatchable baseload power for much lower rates than most other renewable sources of energy. The catch, of course, is that they’re economically practical only when located near geologic faults and vents, such as occur in Hawaii, California, Iceland and Indonesia.
That might be changing, however. Recent developments might be radically expanding the field of commercially viable geothermal sites in the United States. Namely, several geothermal developers are deploying low-temperature, binary-cycle (closed loop) generators to capture geothermal resources previously considered to be low-quality for economic viability. Plus, at existing oil wells, developers are extracting usable energy at low cost.
With enough of these potential sites located near the grid, utilities soon might have more alternatives to choose from in trying to meet renewable portfolio standards (RPS) mandates, and possibly at lower costs than for wind or solar.