US Geothermal Power Potential 10x That Of Coal Power Plants, New Analysis Shows

© SMU Geothermal Laboratory

A new assessment of the geothermal power potential of the United States shows that the nation has roughly 3 million megawatts available and waiting to be tapped using the latest enhanced geothermal drilling methods -- that's 10 times the installed capacity of the nation's coal-fired power plants.

The research, done by Southern Methodist University's Geothermal Laboratory and funded by Google.org (the philanthropic arm of Google), shows that the latest drilling methods open up areas for geothermal power that were once inaccessible.

Conventional U.S. geothermal production has been restricted largely to the western third of the country in geographically unique and tectonically active locations. For instance, The Geysers Field north of San Francisco is home to more than a dozen large power plants that have been tapping naturally occurring steam reservoirs to produce electricity for more than 40 years.

However, newer technologies and drilling methods can now be used to develop resources in a wider range of geologic conditions, allowing reliable production of clean energy at temperatures as low as 100˚C (212˚F) -- and in regions not previously considered suitable for geothermal energy production. Preliminary data released from the SMU study in October 2010 revealed the existence of a geothermal resource under the state of West Virginia equivalent to the state's existing (primarily coal-based) power supply. (Science Codex)

That said, as the map at the top of this post clearly shows, the truly huge geothermal power potential of the United States still resides in the westernmost third of the nation.

The entire project is also available in a Google Earth layer, giving state-by-state analysis.

Tags: Geothermal Power | Renewable Energy | United States

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