A new study released by SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory reveals that the U.S. has enough geothermal resources across the country to produce over three million megawatts of renewable power. The study, which was funded by Google.org, resulted in a comprehensive “Geothermal Map” of the United States, and concluded that geothermal energy surpassed the U.S.’s currently installed coal power by nearly ten-fold.
To provide such a comprehensive analysis of the country’s geothermal resources, Principal Investigator Dr. David Blackwell incorporated rich data from tens-of-thousands of new thermal data points. Although the Blackwell had conducted a similar study back in 2004 with SMU, the current study incorporates far more data and better information of heat flow through the Earth’s crust.
And just to give you some idea of the differences between the two studies, back in 2004, Blackwell had used only 5 heat flow points to inform geothermal estimates of West Virginia; the new study incorporates 1,455 BHT points in that same region. Furthermore, the new study is able to better predict potential geothermal energy sources by incorporating the latest advances in geothermal technology.
For instance, recent drilling methods and newer technologies allow the development of geothermal resources at temperatures as low as 100˚C (212˚F) – regions originally deemed “unsuitable” for geothermal energy development. The latest temperature data and incorporation of in-depth geological analysis provided heat-flow maps at depths from 3.5 kilometers to 9.5 kilometers (11,500 to 31,000 feet). The recent update revealed that the Eastern United States may in fact be hotter than regions in the Western United Sates, thus making it ripe for geothermal development.
However, the survey also incorporated more “practical limitations” on geothermal development as well. For instance, it ruled out development in urban areas or protected areas such as national parks.
Areas that exhibit great potential for geothermal development include the Appalachian trend, heated aquifers in South Dakota, Northern Illinois, and the Gulf Coast.
So what can we take away from the latest goethermal map of the United States?
In particular, the latest research shows that geothermal is much more viable than previously thought. The fact that it can potentially provide ten times more power than currently installed coal capacity reveals that it can provide enormous amounts of clean power well into the future.
Do you think the latest SMU research will encourage further Geothermal development in the United States? Will geothermal be a strong component of future clean energy production both in the US and around the world?
Image: Google Earth, SMU Geothermal Laboratory