In September, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced a new Department of Energy (DOE) goal to make enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) a widespread option in the U.S. for renewable energy by cutting its cost by 90% (to $45 per megawatt hour) by 2035. The Enhanced Geothermal Shot, a department-wide effort to dramatically reduce the cost of EGS, is sought by DOE to unlock the Earth’s abundant heat sources to provide clean, reliable power to American communities whilst also expanding opportunities for a vigorous domestic geothermal industry.
Geothermal energy currently generates about 3.7 gigawatts of electricity in the U.S., but a substantial amount of energy is not accessible with current technology. The conditions where EGS resources are located — at least 4,000 feet underground — are extreme, containing hot temperatures and abrasive rocks, an environment with incredible potential for corrosion.
The goal with ESG is to tap into those resources and place new, clean electricity on the grid.
“Simplified, EGS is a process of creating human-made underground reservoirs, which is accomplished by injecting fluid deep underground into naturally heated rocks that otherwise lack the fluid flow necessary to draw geothermal energy to the surface,” energy.gov said.
It also comes with significant unknowns, which is where research and innovation to advance engineering and EGS drilling comes in. The Enhanced Geothermal Shot aims to build upon the DOE’s EGS research and development and demonstration work by addressing these concerns and challenges head-on with accelerated research, development, and demonstrations to better understand the subsurface, improve engineering to drill more wells faster, and capture more energy with larger wells and power plants.
The implications of EGS on the U.S. energy landscape could be major. According to energy.gov, “more than five terawatts of heat resources — enough to meet the electricity needs of the entire world — exist in the United States.” Accessing even a small fraction of those heat resources could affordably power over 40 million American homes. EGS can also allow buildings and communities to decarbonize by enabling technologies for widespread deployment of geothermal heating and cooling.
“The United States has a vast, geothermal energy resource lying right beneath our feet and this program will make it economical to bring that power to American households and businesses,” said Granholm. “DOE’s Enhanced Geothermal Shot will move geothermal technology from research and development to cost-effective commercial adoption, helping energy communities and workers transition to producing clean energy for the future.”
DOE is investing in research and development that will help the nation reach the Enhanced Geothermal Shot goals, including a recent $44 million to help form EGS innovations for DOE’s Frontier Observatory for Geothermal Energy Research (FORGE) field laboratory and up to $165 million to transfer best practices from oil and gas to advance both conventional geothermal and EGS.
“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also supports work to advance EGS with $84 million in funding to support four pilot EGS demonstration projects that will provide valuable information about EGS in different geographies and geologies,” stated energy.gov.
While EGS is a young technology, it’s believed to have the potential to become a staple of U.S. economic growth. The Enhanced Geothermal Shot is the fourth shot announced within DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative to “help break down the biggest remaining scientific and technical barriers to tackling the climate crisis.” Previously announced Energy Earthshots focused on hydrogen, carbon negative solutions, and long-term energy storage.
DOE also plans to hold an Enhanced Geothermal Shot Summit to engage local and state communities, the industry as a whole, and other stakeholders.