The more I think about Geothermal energy, the more it becomes obvious it is the most sustainable energy system we currently have. The problem is that despite geothermal’s obvious advantages, little has been done to facilitate the energy system. However, a few bills are changing that.
The geothermal energy potential
When you boil it down, geothermal energy holds tremendous potential. It has a relatively low footprint and is always on. It doesn’t depend on time of day or year. It works all the time, despite atmospheric changes, and that makes geothermal one of the most constant sustainable system. It works very simply. Drill down to tap into the earth’s molten layers, pour water, which turns into steam driving generators. Voila, you now have a continuous source of renewable energy. Still, for how great geothermal energy is, it only accounts for 16.9 million megawatt-hours, or 0.41% of the total US electricity produced as of April 2013, according to Wikipedia:
Promising geothermal energy bills
While solar energy has taken off tremendously, geothermal has inched along slowly. The few energy companies that planed to install geothermal energy in the US were confronted with lack of support and lengthy yearly permits. Most of these projects have migrated to China, East Africa, and Turkey. Still, all is not lost. A few bills are making their way to federal level making a strong case for geothermal energy.
RenewableEnergyWorld reports that three bills and two hearings in U.S. Congress subcommittees are pushing for geothermal energy. The first one is the Geothermal Energy on Federal Lands Act, HR 1363, which aims to streamline the NEPA process for a geothermal test project which will allow a geothermal project to quickly move forward if resources are found. The other is the Geothermal Production Expansion Act HR 2004, which would allow for non-competitive geothermal leasing on federal land adjacent to private lands. The third is the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act of 2013, HR 596, which aims to promote the development of renewable energy on public lands.
Meg Cichon, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com reports that on a panel conference call during the Geothermal Energy Association’s (GEA) National Geothermal Summit held in Reno, Nevada, GEA executive director Karl Gawell said: “The geothermal industry is poised for really strong growth in the years ahead, the question is what happens at the state level. We can’t count on Congress any time soon, so we’re relying on states like California and Nevada.”
California is introducing the geothermal bill, SB 1139 calling for 500 MW of geothermal procurement by 2024. What is special with SB1139 is that it separates the state renewable portfolio standard (RPS). It would mean 1,700 MW of geothermal in the area by 2032. Nevada is looking into updating its RPS that has surpassed its previous goals of 20 percent geothermal energy by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025 set in 2007. To sweeten the deal further and boost the economy, Nevada is enticing companies to purchase renewable energy, something Apple jumped on by moving some its data center in the state.
What’s holding back geothermal energy?
You might have guessed that congressional inaction and a focus on wind and solar have slow down the advance of geothermal. It takes an average of 1.5 years for a wind or solar project to become a reality. However, it takes five to seven years for a geothermal project, compared to three to five years for oil and gas projects.
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And for those who will be rightfully quick to point to the fact that we don’t have enough water in the state, there are closed loop systems now that reduce water intake to almost none. Geothermal energy will grow in leaps and bounds in the next few years.