Fracking techniques could revolutionize geothermal energy sectorAugust 1, 2012
Earlier this week, I pointed out some data from the 2012 BP Statistical Energy Abstract that show the US is by far the world leader in renewable energy. Although the US is among the top producers and consumers of both wind and solar power, it owes its presence at the top primarily to its dominance in biofuels. The US is also the world leader in geothermal energy; however, geothermal is a tiny segment in the overall energy mix both globally and in the US. There are two limiting factors to expansion of geothermal: First, geothermal power is spatially fixed – electricity generation plants are built on geothermal sites and the electricity is used locally. Second, although there are “hot rocks” all over the globe, at present, geothermal sites are only useful when there is hot water present – it is the hot water that is used to generate power. Drilling sites that turn out to be dry – or productive sites that lose their water and go dry over time – are wastes of millions of dollars and a disincentive to new investment.
Enter fracking. According to a detailed report from the Energy & Environment News Greenwire, a Washington state firm, using techniques similar to those developed in the natural gas industry, is preparing a demonstration project in which they will drill into an inactive volcano in Oregon, pump in millions of gallons of water, and attempt to turn a “hot rock” site into a productive geothermal location. If successful, this could revolutionize electricity generation, especially in the American West, where the nation’s best potential geothermal sites are located.
Map is from the National Renewable Energy Lab; click here for the full size version.