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The World Policy Institute notes:

  • “The United States has 3,440 megawatts of installed geothermal electric generating capacity, enough to power some 1.4 million homes. For several decades, U.S. geothermal power was confined largely to the Geysers project north of San Francisco. With nearly 1,500 megawatts of generating capacity, this is easily the world’s largest geothermal generating complex. But now the United States is experiencing a geothermal renaissance. Some 124 power plants under development in 12 states are expected to add roughly 1,000 megawatts to U.S. geothermal capacity. As of April 2014, states developing projects of at least 20 megawatts each include Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. [21]

  • “Currently, California and Nevada have over 95 percent of the total U.S. geothermal generating capacity. Utah, Hawaii, Oregon, and Idaho account for nearly all the remainder. In California, CalEnergy—a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Renewables—announced in May 2014 a plan to invest $1 billion to sustain its 10 geothermal facilities around the Salton Sea. The GEA estimates that roughly 50 percent of California’s available geothermal resource remains untapped. The comparable figure for Nevada is 60 percent. [23]

  • “Nationwide, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 42,000 megawatts of geothermal electricity generating capacity could be developed, enough to supply 30 million American homes. In other words, 90 percent of U.S. geothermal power potential is waiting to be tapped. [24]

    Photo of Geothermal plant in Iceland
    Geothermal power and heat in Iceland. Photo used by permission of Gary Braasch
  • “The Philippines, currently the world’s number two generator of electricity from geothermal sources, is also planning new projects. A 40-megawatt project in Oriental Mindoro Province that was set to begin drilling in late 2014 is expected to lower local electricity bills by some 40 percent. The Philippines’ Department of Energy aims to increase total geothermal power capacity from 1,900 megawatts to 3,300 megawatts by 2030. [25]

  • “Indonesia, a country with 127 active volcanoes and thus a wealth of underground energy to harness, has so far developed just 1,340 megawatts of geothermal generating capacity. Although geothermal power has grown slowly there in recent years, it is picking up momentum. A 330-megawatt project in North Sumatra began construction in June 2014. Key regulatory reforms that year opened up new areas to geothermal exploration and made projects more financially attractive. In late 2014, Jakarta announced that 25 project sites would be open for bidding in 2015. The near-term goal is to nearly quadruple geothermal power capacity to 4,900 megawatts by 2019. By 2025, Indonesia intends to have 10,000 megawatts of geothermal capacity, enough to cover one third of its current electricity consumption. [26]

  • “The huge geothermal potential in Indonesia is fortuitous, since its oil production has declined by half over the last two decades, transforming it from an oil exporter into an oil importer in recent years. Pertamina, the state oil company, has been the principal geothermal power developer. As Pertamina shifts its development efforts from oil to geothermal, it could become the first oil company—state-owned or independent—to make the transition from oil to renewable energy. [27]

  • “In 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched an ambitious initiative called FORGE—Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy—with the stated goal of reaching the 100,000-megawatt mark. Under DOE direction, FORGE will bring together industry, academia, and the national laboratories to develop an EGS research and demonstration site. The aim is to test EGS methods and technologies, to model reservoirs, and to collect and share data in order to greatly reduce the risk and cost of EGS, allowing the technology to take off. This will be an international effort to some extent, with participation from Japan, Switzerland, Taiwan, and others. [43]

  • One of the strong selling points of geothermal power is that it is a steady, reliable source of electricity, able to run virtually non-stop. But perhaps an even better selling point, as the energy transition proceeds and as more wind and solar installations connect to the grid, is that geothermal plants can ramp up generation quickly as needed. This reduces the need for expensive fossil fuel generators to be on standby for when the wind stops blowing or night falls. In places endowed with enough underground heat to develop geothermal power plants, the potential benefits are huge.” [44]

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Those contending coal will be the fuel to lift undeveloped countries from poverty are not following the preference of these countries for alternatives like geothermal.

For more on this topic (and the endnotes referenced above) see the “Taping the Earth’s Heat” chapter in “The Great Transition.”

Click here for link to US Department of Energy Geothermal Energy Progress Portal.



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