2008 Archives

How underground ‘hot rocks’ could power America’s future

With enough investment, geothermal power could satisfy 10 percent of the US energy diet, energy experts say.


The following is from the Dec. 31, 2008, edition of The Christian Science Monitor. Expertise for this story was provided by Professor David Blackwell of the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in SMU's Dedman College.

December 31, 2008

By Gregory M. Lamb
Staff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor

Could hot rocks miles below the earth’s surface be the “killer app” of the energy industry?

Google thinks so. It’s investing more than $10 million to develop new technology that would make this subterranean resource a widespread, economically viable competitor to fossil fuels.

Geothermal heat could meet 10 percent of America’s energy needs by mid-century, according to the US Department of Energy. What’s more, it would not generate the climate-warming carbon emissions associated with fossil fuels.

Once tapped, a geothermal system would stay online for centuries. Unlike wind and solar, it would be a “base load” energy source, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

That all sounds great – but of course there’s a catch. A geothermal well costs millions of dollars to drill and drilling is the only way to determine if a location has the right kind of hot rock. The result: With only a trickle of federal aid allotted to developing the resource, geothermal is growing slowly.

That may change under the Obama administration, which has pledged strong support for renewable energy. . .

“I think it’s going to really require the federal government to stimulate activity by coming in and trying to support demonstration projects and things like that for it to get started in a big way,” says David Blackwell, a professor of geophysics at Southern Methodist University, one of the 18 members of MIT’s EGS study panel. “There are some places in the central and eastern United States that are quite hot at reasonable depths that could probably be developed in the relatively near future.”

Read the full story.

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