Could geothermal become a major zero-emissions player?

New geothermal technologies could help scale an industry that historically has been limited by geography.

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

Drill down far enough anywhere in the world, and you’ll reach temperatures hot enough to generate firm, reliable zero-emissions electricity. That’s the hope for new geothermal technologies that could scale the industry beyond well-known geothermal hotspots such as Iceland.

But first, the industry needs to overcome some major challenges related to financing and technology. It also has to grapple with public opinion toward the oil and gas industry, which may be an essential partner in scaling geothermal because of its overlapping expertise in drilling and underground exploration.

In this episode, guest host Lara Pierpoint talks with Jamie Beard, executive director of Project InnerSpace, a nonprofit focused on globally expanding the use of geothermal energy. 

The current generation of geothermal technology relies on naturally occurring underground hot spots, common in places like Iceland and the Western U.S. But an approach called enhanced geothermal systems, also known as the hot dry rock” approach, would make geothermal available around the world, potentially adding hundreds of gigawatts to today’s geothermal capacity.

Lara and Jamie discuss major questions facing the geothermal industry, including:

  • How and where to drill for consistently hot temperatures? 

  • How long before a well is depleted of heat-carrying capacity? 

  • What sort of surveying and information do funders need to undertake in order to manage exploration risks?

  • How can the industry take advantage of the side benefits of geothermal drilling, such as lithium extraction, carbon sequestration and waste heat?

  • What working fluids, such as water or critical CO2, are appropriate for a given project?

  • How viable are geothermal-source heat pumps and how do they compare to air-source heat pumps?

  • What are the potential environmental impacts of geothermal?

  • What role should the oil and gas industry play in scaling this zero-emissions technology?

Recommended reading:

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

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