Boosting the ability to enhance a geothermal site could remove one of the big stumbling blocks that has held back deployment of geothermal energy: the start-up cost of a site. By contrast, finding a good location for solar or wind energy production can be as easy as taking a walk outside.
“You have to spend a lot of energy and effort conducting field surveys and research to prove it’s going to be economically viable to develop,” said Dobson. “That’s harder to prove than whether a site is windy or sunny.”
Yet the idea of tapping the earth’s inner heat to produce electricity isn’t new. As recently as 2003, geothermal sources produced more electricity than wind power in the United States, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
But the growth in geothermal power has been relatively flat since 1990, while technologies harnessing the power of sunlight and wind expanded faster and attracted more investment.
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Today, geothermal energy in the United States provides a total of about 3.7 gigawatts of capacity, or about enough to fuel 3.7 million American homes, according to DOE.
Still, geothermal made up only 0.4 percent of the electricity produced by utility-scale facilities in the US in 2016, according to official statistics. That leaves a long way to go to reach the MIT study’s target of 100 gigawatts.
By comparison, natural gas and coal each produced about a third of America’s electricity last year. Hydropower and wind each made up roughly 6 percent, while solar accounted for 1 percent, although small-scale solar panels add about another half-percent to that figure.
Yet if the advocates of geothermal have their way, the heat of the Earth’s core may soon start providing a bigger share of America’s green energy than it has ever before.
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