December 28, 2009 | admin | Comments 0

Top Geothermal News for 2009: Government support spurs the industry

Geothermal Unit 15 at The Geysers

Geothermal Unit 15 at The Geysers

At Geothermal Digest, we have been following the industry for a scant five months and publishing for four, since our inception in September. In that time some major items have crossed our desks. What follows are what we consider the top stories from the latter half of the year, and some personal favorites. The injection of hundreds of millions of dollars from the Department of Energy ultimately has to top the list. We will count down our top seven.

#7 is a personal favorite and comes out of Idaho, where the Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation announced that it would build a geothermal power plant in Franklin County in the spring of 2010, which turns out to be the fifth under development by Shoshone Energy, a part of the tribe’s Economic Development Corp. Seeing a group of Native Americans moving forward economically on historical lands without casinos and working with sustainable energy has a feel good quality to it that cannot be passed up.

#6 comes from Washington State, where research on nanomaterials at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) intended to help capture carbon dioxide led to the creation of a material that is better suited to the enhancement of relatively cool geothermal resources. The nanostructured metal-organic heat carriers (MOHCs) didn’t work at all with the intended gas but sequestered organics nicely, raising their flash points and thus the burst of heat that would be released in heat exchangers.

# 5 originates in Washington DC, where the DOE announced a collaboration between the Office of Fossil Energy and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Program to demonstrate low temperature geothermal electrical power generation systems using oilfield fluids produced at the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center in Wyoming. The idea, which seems way overdue, looks to turn the astounding 10 barrels of hot water that are estimated to be produced along with each barrel of oil in the U.S. into electricity.

#s 4, 3 and 2 all involve EGS, and we will lead with a story out of California where AltaRock Energy, Inc. took perhaps the biggest prize out of announced DOE funding with a nearly $25 million Recovery Act grant for an engineered geothermal system demonstration project. In partnership with Davenport Power, AltaRock will be injecting cold water at high pressure into existing dry holes in the Newberry Known Geothermal Resource Area in Oregon. EGS has the potential to bring geothermal energy to areas across the country, and around the world for that matter, that do not have near-surface geothermal sources or naturally occurring hot water resources at any depth and is the key technology to watch.

#3 originates in Switzerland, and sent shock waves across the globe when authorities in Basel City cancel an EGS project due to the risk of additional earthquakes. A risk analysis found that there remained a danger of setting off more earthquakes if the work (not drilling) was resumed. Among the findings – both positive and negative – was a 15% chance that drilling could set off an earthquake that could cause over $500 million in damage. News outlets would have had the world believe that geothermal resources were too risky to tap.

#2 from California began with the coincidental timing of AltaRock telling the DOE that it had finished its work at well E-7, where it ran into difficulties and finished with interviews with the company’s CEO Donald O’Shei and Chief Technology Officer Susan Petty to set the record straight. Their EGS work at The Geysers will continue and they will soon get started at the Davenport site in Oregon.

And #1, and proving that an energy policy can include more than oil wells, goes to the DOE’s commitment of up to $338 million in Recovery Act funding for the exploration and development of new geothermal fields and research into advanced geothermal technologies. The grant recipients include private industry, academic institutions, tribal entities, local governments, and the DOE’s National Laboratories. Further, an additional $353 million in private and non-Federal cost-share funds will match the grants more than one-for-one. The money will support some 123 projects in 39 states.

What do you think? What were your top stories in the geothermal industry in 2009? And tell us what we missed earlier in what was clearly a big year for the geothermal development.

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