GeoThermal – You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

November 1, 2010

The U.S. geothermal industry celebrates its golden anniversary this year—a fitting tribute to the Golden State that gave it birth fifty years ago. The industry came to life in September, 1960 at a PG&E project in The Geysers, a region of hot springs in Sonoma County.The  Geysers.jpg

From that original 11 megawatt plant, The Geysers now boasts 1,517 MW of installed capacity.

The industry has grown to 3,086 MW of capacity nationwide, making the United States the world’s largest producer of this clean, renewable source of energy. In California it provides five percent of the state’s power, compared to less than one percent from solar.

A new report by the Geothermal Industry Association estimates that 500 MW to 700 MW of new geothermal projects will begin “advanced phases of construction” in 2011. That’s a sharp rise from the recession-depressed figure of 162 MW of this year. Supported by the tail end of federal stimulus spending, next year’s activity should generate some 3,000 construction jobs, mostly in Nevada and California.

Counting all projects in the pipeline, Nevada leads the way with 1,804 MW of new capacity under development. California follows with 1,403 MW.  Nationally, the additional capacity under development is approaching 8,000 MW.

Another innovative project funded by DOE last month, by Modoc Contracting Co. in Canby, Calif., will use leftover water from a low-temperature generator to heat greenhouses and a fish farm.

With geothermal energy, the Earth’s the limit. “If we can drill and recover just a fraction of the geothermal heat that exists, there will be enough to supply the entire planet with energy – energy that is clean and safe,” says Are Lund, senior researcher at SINTEF Materials and Chemistry in Norway.

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