Potential Energy: Geothermal Statistics and Overall Energy Use
The Newberry Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) Demonstration is being conducted at a time when public awareness of energy issues has never been higher. The environmental consequences of both harvesting and burning nonrenewable fuels make relying on them a less than ideal long term solution for national and global energy needs.
As such, the work being done in geothermal research and other renewable energy fields is being carefully watched by consumers, academics, environmentalists and state and federal leaders. Because of its potential implications for future energy acquisition, the outcome of the Newberry EGS Demonstration is widely anticipated. To understand why EGS development holds so much promise, one must have a better understanding of how much energy is currently used, and how it is sourced.
Current Energy Statistics
Energy consumption in the United States, along with most of the industrialized world, ramped up from miniscule to massive in a relatively short period of time.
By way of illustration, in 1870, half of the horsepower from all prime movers still came from horses and other draft animals. In 2008, the nation’s total energy use was over 99 quadrillion BTU. In the course of history, that’s a lot of change in less than 140 years.
But technology has not progressed as quickly as consumption. Non-renewable energy is by far the predominate source of energy used both in the U.S. and worldwide. Renewable energy accounts for 7% of U.S. energy use. Geothermal energy makes up just 5% of that, which means just over one third of one percent (0.35%) at current levels.
In addition to environmental impact, high energy demand requires the United States to rely on non-renewable resources that are imported, because U.S. energy consumption far outstrips domestic energy production. The political consequences of foreign fuel are much debated, but the economic consequences are plain. Developing domestic sources of renewable energy, such as geothermal power, can create a burgeoning, sustainable industry in the United States without the economic, political and environmental complications of imported non-renewable power.
Enhanced Geothermal Potential
The U.S. Department of Energy calls geothermal energy “an enormous, underused heat and power source.” EGS technology has the potential to address all of energy challenges discussed above.
- Usage: A 2007 study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology predicts that if EGS technology is appropriately developed, it will be able to provide 10% of the United States’ electricity needs within a time span of 50 years. As noted above, that’s more than is currently provided by nuclear power, and a huge increase compared to the 0.35% that geothermal power represents today.
- Affordability: That same MIT study predicts that by 2050, if appropriately developed, the cost for EGS-derived power will be competitive with fuel produced from non-renewables.
- Domestic production: Developing geothermal technology will reduce reliance on foreign oil. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that there are 100,000 megawatts of untapped potential energy within affordable reach across the United States; as many as 50,000 megawatts of that power is located in Washington and Oregon alone.
- Reliability: Currently, coal-based power plants are only producing power about 75% of the time, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. But average system availability for geothermal energy is around 95%. EGS can deliver virtually uninterrupted, 24/7 baseload power.
- Clean, low impact energy: Geothermal energy, which includes EGS, is clean energy. It emits little or no greenhouse gas. The ‘fuel’ is used at the source, eliminating the need to mine and transport the fuel to the point of use. The footprint of geothermal facilities is very small, far less than non-renewable sources, or even wind and solar. Geothermal plants can be located for minimal visual impact, and can use air cooling to eliminate the need for consumption of precious groundwater resources.
All told, Enhanced Geothermal Systems offer a well-rounded solution to many of today’s energy challenges. As a green technology that can efficiently utilize renewable, domestic resources, EGS has the potential to positively alter the energy landscape, and do so in a matter of just a few decades.