Geothermal Energy- A Two-way Proposition By Carol Wilson
The quickest way for data center technology to gain credibility is for Google to adopt it. So when Google announced in 2008 that it was investing $10 million in three companies pursuing enhanced geothermal energy systems, interest in this form of powering data centers spiked.
Geothermal technology is not new – it exists today even to heat and cool individual residences by using the relatively stable core temperature of the earth to regulate a home’s temperature. But geothermal powering at utility scale is a different animal.
Enhanced geothermal systems,which are also sometimes called engineered geothermal systems, use injection wells to pump water into the heated rock layer well below the earth’s surface. The water is heated on contact and returns to the earth’s surface through production wells.
This enhanced approach mimics naturally occurring hydrothermal systems, such as those in Iceland, where the high concentration of volcanoes creates geothermal energy that is used both for heating and for the production of electricity. Iceland has five major geothermal power plants which produce 26% of the country’s electricity and provide the heating and hot water for a vast majority of Iceland’s buildings.
So what Google is investing millions to create, Iceland already has in such abundance that it is very cheaply priced. There are few places in the U.S. where natural geothermal energy exists in that abundance. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, natural geothermal energy resources in the U.S. today represent only about 2500 Megawatt electrical capacity, whereas enhanced geothermal systems may produce 40 times that much power – at a higher price.