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October 25, 2011

Three Cheers for Geothermal

U.S. Geothermal

Rock beats scissors. Paper beats rock. And someday geothermal will beat coal. But by how much? An updated map of new thermal data has found that geothermal energy can produce 10 times the energy of installed capacity of U.S. coal, according to Southern Methodist University's Geothermal Laboratory.

This new map was made possible by incorporating thousands of newly compiled Bottom Hole Temperature (BHT) readings from oil, gas, and water wells in parts of the country that hadn't previously been surveyed. The data shows that the continental U.S. has nearly 3 million megawatts worth of the renewable resource. That's a whole lot of power!

Previous maps were nowhere near these numbers because recent technological innovations have made geothermal development possible "in areas with little or no tectonic activity or volcanism." While current geothermal energy production mostly takes place in the West, some parts of the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. are actually hotter underneath the surface. In fact late last year, SMU, thanks to a grant from Google.org, determined that West Virginia's geothermal potential could easily bypass the state's current coal industry in terms of energy capacity.

This week the Geothermal Energy Association is hosting a worldwide energy expo in San Diego, which is expected to draw 3,000 people. California leads all U.S. states in geothermal capacity at about 1,800 megawatts, or "two-thirds of the total United States' geothermal generation. It is estimated that the state has a potential of more than 3,000 megawatts of additional power from geothermal energy, using current technologies," according to the GEA. But that's nothing compared to the potential.

"The jobs in this industry are definitely going to grow," GEA executive director Karl Gawell told the E-Commerce Times. "We've got this investment in technology that will pay off in the next several years....We're looking for how to solve our energy problems, and this is a huge resource we're only starting to tap."

(Image via google.org.)

-- Brian Foley

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