In the past, I have written about Google’s laudable RE < C project, which aims to provide renewable electricity at a price lower than that of coal. I have also written about geothermal power as a potentially underappreciated renewable source, particularly if artificial sites can be developed. Now, it seems that Google is putting $10.25 million into a couple of companies investigating the potential of ‘enhanced geothermal.’
Rather unfortunately, Canada has no geothermal sites operating at present. Even more surprisingly, Canada hasn’t even collected data on possible sites since the 1980s. In addition to the investments in the drilling companies, Google is also giving $500,000 to the Geothermal Lab at Southern Methodist University to improve understanding of the size and distribution of geothermal energy in North America.
Hopefully, this will allow Canada to expand beyond the growing success of geothermal heat pumps and incorporate geothermal generating stations as one element of a renewably-based, low-carbon energy system.
12 thoughts on “Google and geothermal in Canada”
Speaking of Geothermal
By Robert Rapier
In the previous post I stated the geothermal – a very promising and cost-competitive source of alternative energy – doesn’t get the same kind of press coverage as wind or solar power. Ironically, I hadn’t realized that Google has just announced a >$10 million investment in advanced geothermal technology. It even got quite a bit of press coverage (probably due more to the ‘Google’ factor than anything). Scientific American has one of the better articles I have seen:
Drilling for Hot Rocks: Google Sinks Cash into Advanced Geothermal Technology
Enough geothermal energy to power the globe — now that’s hot!
By Katy Bacon
Today, as part of our Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative, Google.org announced more than $10 million in investments and grants in Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology. EGS expands the potential of traditional geothermal energy by orders of magnitude. The traditional geothermal approach relies on finding naturally occurring pockets of steam or hot water. The EGS process, by comparison, replicates these conditions by fracturing hot rock, circulating water through the system, and using the resulting steam to produce electricity in a conventional turbine.
EGS has the potential to provide clean renewable electricity 24/7, at a cost cheaper than coal. The ability to produce electricity from geothermal energy has been thought exclusive to locations such as California and Iceland. However EGS could allow us to harness the heat within the earth almost anywhere. To see see the massive size of the US geothermal resource accessible by EGS, check out our Google Earth layer. For more on EGS, watch this video, featuring Dr. Steve Chu, Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Dr. Jefferson Tester, professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and lead author of a major recent study on EGS:
Alaska Opts for Underground Energy
Monday, July 28, 2008 – Sarah Gingichashvili
Alaskan state officials have recently announced their intentions to begin funding the exploration and surveying of Alaska’s largest volcanoes in hopes of utilizing these as a source of geothermal energy which they say could provide enough energy to power thousands of households. According to some estimates these volcanoes and hot springs could supply up to 25% of the state’s energy needs. Could this be the beginning of an alternative energy revolution?
Full Steam Ahead
Google.org invests in geothermal energy
Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the search giant, has announced a $10.25 million investment in geothermal energy technology. The money will back two start-up companies that specialize in enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), the process of pumping water underground to crack hot rocks and use the resulting steam to power a turbine and create electricity. “EGS could be the ‘killer app’ of the energy world,” says Dan Reicher of Google.org. “It has the potential to deliver vast quantities of power 24/7 and be captured nearly anywhere on the planet. And it would be a perfect complement to intermittent sources like solar and wind.” Geothermal currently supplies a mere 0.5 percent of global energy supply and 0.4 percent of U.S. supply. The investment is a part of Google.org’s RE<C effort, which has an end goal of making renewable energy cheaper than coal. We hope coal is quakin’ in its dirty black boots.
sources: Reuters, CNET News, Forbes, Google Inc., Earth2Tech
see also, in Grist: Google.org invests in plug-in hybrids and solar thermal
see also, in Grist: An interview with Google’s green energy czar
Enhanced Geothermal: Drill Here, Drill Now?
A surefire indicator of hubris in American business is the misbegotten belief that success in one enterprise is a predictor of likely success in another, unrelated one. Established companies periodically flirt with this conceit — whether for executive ego gratification, perceived risk diversification, or earnings growth imperative.
The energy industry has generally had an unhappy experience with such corporate cross-dressing, ranging from Pacific Lighting’s foray into retail drugstores, to Mobil’s purchase of Montgomery Ward, to Exxon’s move into word processing machines. None of these ventures ended well.
But a faith in transferable skill sets is the very foundation of the venture capital industry, and arguably much of America’s high tech success over the past thirty years.
So a fusillade of bells and whistles went off last month when Google, the iconic business success story of the past decade, announced that its ongoing search for renewable energy with the potential to be cheaper than coal had landed on the Rodney Dangerfield of all energy sources, geothermal.
Low Temperature Geothermal Power
When geothermal power is mentioned, people usually think of traditional high temperature geothermal power stations using water from volcanic areas, such as those found in Iceland, New Zealand, the US and elsewhere around the ring of fire.
More recently, interest in enhanced / engineered geothermal systems (EGS) – also known as hot dry rock (HDR) or hot fractured rock (HFR) geothermal power – has been high, with a number of experimental projects underway in Australia and Europe.
Low temperature geothermal power is also starting to attract significant interest, as lower temperature water resources are common in many countries (for example, waste hot water produced by oil and gas wells – in Texas alone, more than 12 billon barrels are produced, with oil companies usually re-injecting the waste water into the earth) and new technologies are beginning to appear that allow these resources to be developed commercially.
UTC Power has developed a low-cost Rankine cycle system that can convert temperatures as low as 195 °F (91 °C) into electricity. The technology is similar to a steam engine, with steam or hot water vaporizes a hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant that drives the turbine (it has been compared to a “refrigerator compressor running backwards”).
Google PowerMeter, now in prototype, will receive information from utility smart meters and energy management devices and provide anyone who signs up access to her home electricity consumption right on her iGoogle homepage. The graph below shows how someone could use this information to figure out how much energy is used by different household activites.
Google has added some information on future solar energy jobs in the US to Google Earth: “Based on a study by Navigant Consulting, and with the help of Google.org and Google Earth Outreach, our friends at the Solar Energy Research Education Foundation (SEREF) have developed a U.S. solar jobs map in Google Earth. You can also view this as a KML in Google Earth.”