Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Growth of the “Forgotten” Renewable Energy

Hello, I hope everyone is doing well.  Today, I would like to discuss a recent growth in geothermal energy.  Geothermal energy uses the power of water heated to steam temperatures to spin turbines that produce electricity.  Geothermal energy is sometimes described as the “forgotten” renewable because it is by far the least popular and well known renewable energy compared to wind and solar.  Furthermore, geothermal energy only produces 1% percent of electrical power worldwide according to the World Energy Outlook.  However, geothermal energy is growing as drilling for oil  and natural gas increases.  The Geothermal Energy Association reports that geothermal resources grew by about 4% to 5% recently.

Interest in the geothermal industry is growing internationally as well as domestically and international development banks are helping to finance these projects.  According to Maria Richards at SMU, “If you’re  wildcatting for geothermal, Africa is really of those parts of the world where we seem to be going…”  Large projects are also planned for Indonesia and some Central/South American countries as well as East Africa.  In addition, the Ring of Fire is a current hot spot for new production because it has high temperatures relatively close to the earth’s surfaces.

There are several benefits to the use of geothermal energy.  Compared to other electric power production methods, geothermal energy can heat and cool homes at lower temperatures.  This source can also be used to produce energy consistently 24 hours day, unlike the other renewables which are intermittent in nature.  This could also be a good alternative source of energy for countries, like Kenya and El Salvador, that rely heavily on hydroelectric energy.

However, there are disadvantages to geothermal energy as well.  Research has found that 50% to 60% of a typical geothermal drilling project is up front with a 10% to 30% chance that the drilling will be unsuccessful.  Richards sums it up best with this observation: “You can put out a meter and measure easily how much wind and solar is at a site.  You can get real data.”  But it is “much harder to understand” how much geothermal hot water is available in a certain area.

The recent developments of oil and gas have allowed for increased research in this field though.  The drilling has allowed researchers to improve data on temperature, water availability and seismic data.  Furthermore, the researchers at SMU hope to incorporate previously drilled oil and gas wells, like the Huabei oil field near Beijing, to produce small scale geothermal power.  Countries that are trying to reduce their reliance on traditional fuels are the ones pursuing this research most actively.  China is trying to increase their geothermal production to reduce their smog and ease reliance on traditional fuels for their growing population.  Munich, Germany is hoping to obtain all its heating from renewables by 2025 and plans on most of it being geothermal. It is also predicted that many more places around the Ring of Fire will develop geothermal energy faster than other locations as research continues.

I am interested to see how this industry grows with the development of this research.  It is my opinion that this energy has the potential to fill the gap that other renewables have in regards to consistent energy production.  Furthermore, the knowledge gained from oil and gas drilling, as well as the previously drilled wells, could greatly reduce the up front costs.  What is your opinion on this renewable resource? What are your predictions for the future of this industry?  Be sure to follow me and share this article if you enjoyed it.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Reference:

Galbraith, Kate, “Geothermal Industry Grows, With Help From Oil and Gas Drilling”, New York Times Online, July 23, 2014, http://goo.gl/ixL318 

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