WATCH: Geothermal experts, utilities explore strategies for integrating more geothermal energy onto the grid

Webinars, WGA News

The final workshop of Colorado Governor Jared Polis' WGA Chair Initiative, The Heat Beneath Our Feet, featured a tour of the Energy Systems Integration Facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory with Alejandro Moreno, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power. 

Following the tour, WGA hosted a roundtable with regional geothermal experts and public utilities to discuss strategies for reducing the risk of investment involved with geothermal development and utilizing the resource to provide the renewable baseload power that wind and solar simply can't.

“There’s enormous potential for everything from geothermal passive heating and cooling systems to geothermal electricity,” Governor Polis said. “We want to make sure we have an accelerated process in place given the nature of the climate emergency for geothermal to be deployed.”   

Moreno echoed Governor Polis’ sentiment. “This needs to be a nationwide approach,” Moreno said. “The federal government obviously has really significant resources to accelerate this transition… but we know that the real work in making this happen is going to take place in states across the West. It’s the decisions made at the state and local level every day that ultimately determine what this energy future looks like.”   

To fully realize the potential of geothermal energy, Martin Keller, NREL’s laboratory director, said geothermal must be provided with the same support that the burgeoning solar industry was provided with 30 years ago. 

“Solar took 30 years to go from super expensive to now being one of the cheapest ways to produce electricity,” Keller said. “But we don’t have 30 years for some of these new technologies. We only have about 10 to bring these technologies to scale and then deploy.”  

Some of the biggest hurdles to more widespread deployment, officials representing regional utilities said, are a lack of quality subsurface mapping and access to transmission lines.

“As a new developer we’ll go to the biggest sweet spot, meaning a high-quality geothermal resource in a place that has access to transmission that can carry electrons to a place where there is demand, and where we can get the acreage to acquire a geothermal lease,” Sarah Jewett, the Vice President of Strategy for Fervo Energy, said. “It’s surprising how many places are ruled out by having those three things together."

While these issues add a significant layer of cost and complexity to geothermal deployment, industry experts at WGA’s NREL tour noted that the 24/7 reliability, long-term cost savings, lack of carbon emissions, and job opportunities for oil and gas workers far outweigh the upfront costs.

“[Geothermal] is a high-value complement to solar and wind, that provides grid stability and resilience,” Amanda Kolker, the Laboratory Program Manager for geothermal at NREL, said. “Looking at it as an integrated energy solution, it can help address, energy resilience, energy security, energy equity, job security, and environmental and climate justice.”

As utilities consider integrating more geothermal power onto the grid, those ancillary benefits, many said, must be considered in the cost-benefit analysis – especially as tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act become available.

Enacting production tax credits and investment tax credits for energy communities is, “a really big deal,” Chris Markuson, the western states director with the BlueGreen Alliance, said. “It reduces the cost of projects tremendously and makes things that were once a little questionable in terms of viability and profitability for companies, to now be very profitable. And [these tax credits] carry prevailing wage requirements so we can guarantee these are going to be good jobs.”

To help recap these discussions, WGA hosted a webinar featuring Amanda Kolker, Chris Markuson, and Bryant Jones, the Executive Director of Geothermal Rising. You can watch the webinar below, or check out the entire Heat Beneath Our Feet webinar series to learn more about strategies for expanding geothermal energy development.

sign up for our newsletters