Grabbing heat from beneath the earth’s crust to flip on the lights

Maria Richards, coordinator of SMU's Geothermal Lab, talks about the potential for geothermal energy prior to a conference hosted by the CleanTX Forum.

By Asher Price

The CleanTX Forum hosts a conference tomorrow night in Austin on geothermal energy.

In theory, there are megawatts to be had below the earth’s surface: Companies are figuring out ways to pump out the heat (basically in the form of hot water) from a mile or more below the surface to power electricity plants.

Maria Richards, who will moderate the conference and is the Southern Methodist University geothermal lab coordinator, tells me that that there is currently nothing online in Texas that is producing geothermal electricity. Low gas prices are the chief stumbling block to development of the renewable geothermal industry, she said.

Geothermal is harder to market because it’s not as obvious an energy source as wind or the sun, she said.

“It’s not in your face like solar and wind,” she said. “The earth is much more complicated. With geothermal, you’re using something that’s hidden, and you need a lot more research to develop a system well.”

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