Senate Energy Bill Passes With Geothermal Provisions, #BRESx3 Summit Theme Announced


Senator Murkowski, who helped lead the recently passed Senate Energy Bill.

Photo credit: The New York Times/Zach Gibson

In this post:
*Senate Passed Energy Bill Will Help Achieve Geothermal Energy’s Potential, Industry Leader Says
*From the Office of Senator Wyden: Senate Passes Two Wyden Renewable Energy Bills: Wyden-Authored Bills would Spur Clean Energy from Geothermal, Marine Power
*From the Office of Senator Heller: Senate Passes Heller Amendments to Energy Bill
*3X the Power of Baseloads, 3X the Voice: 2016 Baseload Renewable Energy Summit #BRESx3
*New Geothermal Energy State Fact Sheets Available
*Senate Moves to Increase DOE Geothermal Program, House Proposes Cuts
*Studies Show Geothermal and Grid Diversity Benefit the Environment and the Consumers
*Stanford Researchers Use DNA to Explore Renewable Energy Sources
*MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center Dreams Up Innovative Fusion Technology for Geothermal

Senate Passed Energy Bill Will Help Achieve Geothermal Energy’s Potential, Industry Leader Says

(Washington, DC) The U.S. geothermal industry applauded U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, and Maria Cantwell, D-WA, for successfully steering through the Senate a broad, bipartisan energy bill. The Energy Policy Modernization Act, S.2012, “will help America achieve its geothermal potential by addressing some of the barriers to development in the U.S.,” commented Karl Gawell, Executive Director of the Geothermal Energy Association.” The Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 85-12.

“The geothermal energy produced as a result of these important measures will help the nation achieve a more diverse and reliable electricity supply, reduce emissions, grow state and local economies, and create jobs in both the oil and gas, and the renewable sectors,” said Gawell.

The legislation’s geothermal provisions are built upon legislative proposals introduced by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Heller (R-NV). The Geothermal Energy Opportunities Act sponsored by Senator Wyden (D-OR) sought to address some of the critical barriers to geothermal expansion. Provisions it proposed that were adopted as part of S.2012:

  • direct the Secretary of Interior to increase geothermal energy on public lands and directs the USGS to identify sites capable of generating 50,000-MW of geothermal power;
  • direct federal agencies to identify priority areas for geothermal development and to facilitate that development;
  • allow federal oil and gas lease holders to utilize coproduced geothermal fluids to generate power — today 25 billion barrels of hot water are produced annually from oil and gas wells within the United States much of which cannot be used due to leasing technicalities; and,
  • facilitate new geothermal discoveries by allowing the limited non-competitive leasing of adjacent lands to support development where a new discovery has been made;

Additionally, Senator Heller (R-NV) sponsored two measures that were adopted as part of the final energy bill – the Geothermal Exploration Opportunities Act, and the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act. Provisions proposed in these measures adopted in S.2012 will:

  • expedite geothermal exploration for new test projects by providing a limited categorical exclusion; and,
  • direct the BLM to prepare a new, supplemental Programmatic EIS for Geothermal energy

“S. 2012’s geothermal provisions represent both leadership by Senator Murkowski and Senator Cantwell and the legislative initiative of Senator Wyden and Senator Heller,” Gawell stated. ‘This represents bi-partisan legislative collaboration that we heartily applaud.

From the Office of Senator Wyden: Senate Passes Two Wyden Renewable Energy Bills: Wyden-Authored Bills would Spur Clean Energy from Geothermal, Marine Power


CONTACT: HANK STERN, 503-326-7539

SAM OFFERDAHL, 202-224-5039

Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced the Senate today passed two bills he wrote to increase domestic production of low-carbon renewable energy from underground hotspots and the power in ocean waves, tides and currents.

Wyden’s Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act would boost domestic production of renewable energy from ocean waves, tides and currents and facilitate private investment in potential projects. His Geothermal Energy Opportunities Act would encourage geothermal production by streamlining government permitting and mapping geothermal resources.

Wyden pushed for his bills to be included in the bipartisan Energy Policy Modernization Act, which the Senate passed by a vote of 85 to 12.

“Climate change is a massive challenge, but the only way to take it on is by putting points on the board right now. By capturing the power from geothermal hotspots in the ground and from ocean waves, tides and currents, our nation has the potential to power millions of homes and businesses with clean, renewable energy,” Wyden said. “Geothermal and marine power generate homegrown clean electricity that can reduce our dependence on coal and other fossil fuels, which is why I’m proud to see these bills pass the Senate today.”

Oregon’s geothermal resource is ranked third in the nation, with the potential to produce at least 2,200 MW of electric power – enough energy to power about 1.5 million homes a year. The Department of Energy estimates that there is enough energy found in waves, tidal streams and ocean currents to power millions of homes.

Wyden first introduced the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act as chair of the Energy Committee in 2013. He reintroduced the bill last year with Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

Wyden’s Geothermal Energy Opportunities Act included a smaller bill, the Geothermal Production Expansion Act that he introduced in March 2015 along with Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Jim Risch, R-Idaho. The Geothermal Production Expansion Act passed the Senate in 2014.

Wyden is a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
From the Office of Senator Heller: Senate Passes Heller Amendments to Energy Bill

Washington, DC – Today, the United States Senate approved three long-standing initiatives introduced by U.S. Senator Dean Heller as part of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, a bipartisan energy bill focused on addressing national energy opportunities and challenges. It will save energy, increase domestic energy and mineral supplies, facilitate investment into critical infrastructure, improve grid security, and boost international trade.

“All of these important initiatives have been top priorities of mine, and I’m proud to see the Senate pass them. They will make a difference across Nevada and the rest of country. Energy continues to be one of Nevada’s greatest assets, and I am thankful to Chairman Lisa Murkowski and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell for their leadership on these amendments,” said Senator Heller.

3X the Power of Baseloads, 3X the Voice: 2016 Baseload Renewable Energy Summit #BRESx3

Nearly 2/3 of US renewable electricity comes from baseloads- geothermal, hydropower, and biomass. These three baseload renewable energy resources are often sidelined in the discussion of renewable energy. This year the Geothermal, Hydropower, and Biomass Association are joining forces to create the Baseload Renewable Energy Summit (BRESx3): 3X the Power of Baseloads. 3X The Voice. The BRESx3 will be held June 7-8, 2016 at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, NV.

This year, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) introduces a new spin to the annual event. The 2016 theme “Baseload Renewable Technologies: Keys for Economic Growth and Environmental Quality” will feature the combined voices of geothermal, hydropower, and biomass and focus on the future prospects of these three baseload renewable energy resources.

Please find attached the 2016 BRESx3 flyer. For more information about the event, registration, opportunities for sponsorship, and a tentative agenda, please refer to the following link: Early-bird discount rates end May 6th.


Ms. Rani Chatrath

+1 202-454-5261


New Geothermal Energy State Fact Sheets Available

On August 3, 2015, President Obama and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Clean Power Plan which will reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Currently, carbon dioxide is the nation’s largest source of pollution that exacerbates climate change and leads to an array of public health problems. To help states comply with the Clean Power Plan, The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO), and Geothermal Resources Council (GRC) have collaborated on nine guides to assist states wishing to include geothermal technologies in their compliance plans. Geothermal technologies can be important tools to help states comply with EPA’s new rules by building power plants where these resources are available, expanding direct-use heating and cooling systems, or installing geothermal heat pumps on homes and business. Please see the guides linked below and feel free to contact GEA, GEO, or GRC if you have any additional questions.

Senate Moves to Increase DOE Geothermal Program, House Proposes Cuts

The Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, 4/14, unanimously approved the FY2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, clearing the $37.5 billion measure for consideration by the Senate.

Senate Report 114-236 which accompanies the legislation provides the following specific funding and direction to the Department of Energy.


“The Committee recommends $70,500,000 for Geothermal Technologies. Funds made available by this section shall be disbursed to the full spectrum of geothermal technologies, as authorized bythe Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-140). The Secretary is encouraged to continue to support comprehensive programs that foster academic and professional development initiatives.

“To facilitate necessary technology development and expand understanding of subsurface dynamics, the Committee recommends $35,000,000 for the continuation of activities of the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy [FORGE], with activities to include ongoing novel subsurface characterization, fullscale well drilling, and technology research and development to accelerate the commercial pathway to large-scale enhanced geothermal systems power generation.

“The Committee directs the Department to continue its efforts to identify prospective geothermal resources in areas with no obvious surface expressions.”

The DOE Geothermal Technologies efforts were funded at $71 million in FY16, and the Administration’s FY 17 Budget proposed an increase to $99.5 million.

The House released its Subcommittee draft of the Energy and Water Bill earlier in the week, 4-12, but has not officially released the report which will provide program level details.

The Full House Appropriations Committee acted on the FY17 bill Tuesday, 4-19. In the House Bill report, geothermal funding faced a significant cut. The House provided:

“Geothermal Technologies.-The Committee recommends $56,000,000 for Geothermal Technologies, $15,000,000 below fiscal year 2016 and $43,500,000 below the budget request. Within available funds, the recommendation provides $35,000,000 for ongoing activities for the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy project.”

The House and Senate will need to resolve this and many other differences in their Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill in the weeks/months ahead.

Studies Show Geothermal and Grid Diversity Benefit the Environment and the Consumers
By Ben Matek  

Last fall, the California legislature passed SB 350, a bill that will increase the state’s renewable energy generation to 50% by 2030 utilizing resources like wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy. This goal will be a first. No large-scale economy like California has ever attempted to transition to a grid powered in majority by renewables. With such high-reaching plans and only a decade and a half to deliver, where does the state go from here?

There are countries with grids which are almost fully powered by renewables, like Iceland, Costa Rica, and New Zealand, but none of these countries have economies as large, loads as complex, or are as geographically diverse as California. So the lessons learned from these grids may not be applicable to California. Most importantly is how will California accomplish this task responsibly so that carbon emissions are permanently reduced and the future grid saves rate-payers money on their utility bills?

Study after study on the California energy landscape point toward the same answer: make the grid diverse. California’s grid will require a mix of renewable resources like solar, hydropower, storage, wind, and geothermal. For example, a study commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation, on a 50% renewable grid found that “replacing 10 TWh of solar PV with geothermal . . . reduces CO2 emissions by 4.2 million metric tons per year in California and 2.4 MMT/yr in the rest of the West.”

For comparison, a reduction in 7 million metric tons of CO2 emissions is the equivalent of eliminating the need to burn 7.5 billion pounds of coal or eliminating the emissions caused by about a million homes’ worth of electricity consumption per year. This is not a trivial number. These savings would be on top of the additional 40-50 million metric tons from CO2 that can be saved from the power sector in 2030 annually on a 50% renewable grid.

An earlier study titled the Low Carbon Grid Study, commissioned by a group of three dozen independent entities in California, found that “Conventional grid flexibility assumptions and the less diverse portfolio led to 14% more carbon emissions than the more diverse Target portfolio with enhanced flexibility.”

The savings in question are not only limited to carbon emissions. The Low Carbon Grid Study also found “the total statewide utility revenue requirement in 2030 has been estimated at $38.2 billion per year. Thus adding geothermal power to the RPS portfolio saves almost 2% on statewide utility bills.”

A recent staff paper by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) agrees with Low Carbon Grid Study’s conclusions. In their analysis, when geothermal resources are procured at costs at ~$5,000/kW or less. CPUC staff state that, “Reducing geothermal costs and forcing in geothermal resources at the same time . . . reduces the revenue requirement and rate impact relative to the default portfolio, even after accounting for increased transmission infrastructure.”

This fact has been shown for some time. Even when a 50% RPS was just on Sacramento’s wish list, the consulting firm and analytics firm E3 studied a 50% renewable grid in California and found: “The Diverse Scenario shows a substantially lower rate impact than the more heavily solar dominated cases, primarily because the diverse portfolio results in less overgeneration.”

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy that reverse-engineered the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) from public power purchase agreements estimated LCOE’s for geothermal projects constructed in the last decade ranged from roughly $40 to $80/MWh. Furthermore, analysis from another division of DOE, the Energy Information Administration, wrote in their latest LCOE analysis, “Geothermal cost data is site-specific, and the relatively large positive value for that technology results because there may be individual sites that are very cost-competitive.”

Despite its low cost, geothermal still faces hurdles due to high upfront risk, expensive drilling costs and a lack of support from state and federal government policymakers. If Californian officials want to pass these environmental and cost benefits on to their citizens, it is essential geothermal power be given equal footing with other renewables in public policy. In addition, programs that specifically target geothermal risks like cost-shared drilling, insurance products, and exploration programs are essential for building new power plants. A change in California policy that recognized the system benefits of adding additional geothermal would create a market for new geothermal, resulting in easier access to PPAs and lower cost of capital.

The Walton Family Foundation’s new report agrees, concluding: “A change in California policy that recognized the system benefits of adding additional geothermal would create a market for new geothermal, resulting in easier access to PPAs and lower cost of capital.”

Moving forward, the evidence suggests policy makers should be discussing how we can integrate a diverse mix of renewables into the grid that both reduces costs for ratepayers and saves CO2. As climate change continues to be a driver for renewable energy procurement, every ton of carbon dioxide saved is one less ton counting against the global carbon budget. While exciting technological developments have driven down the cost of renewable energy technologies like PV panels, battery storage and wind turbines, it’s important to not forget how all these technologies can fit together to create a lowest-cost future for customer utility bills at the end of the month as well.

Stanford Researchers Use DNA to Explore Renewable Energy Sources

The key to unlocking cleaner energy may lay in human DNA, claims a recent study by Stanford scientists. By mixing synthetic DNA with microscopic particles, Yuran Zhang and a team of geothermal energy researchers are aiming to tap into the widely available but often overlooked cleaner energy source geothermal brings to the table around the globe.

Geothermal energy consists of the heat of the earth, and geothermal power is generated by extracting that heat and turning it into electricity. In short, the heat ruses through cracks or fractures deep underground, therefore geothermal engineers must have a thorough grasp of the underlying geology and the location and orientation of those fractures. This is where DNA and advanced nanoparticle technology enter the geothermal picture.

“Currently, reservoir fracture networks are still poorly known despite advances in seismic imaging, tracer testing, and other imaging and sensing technologies,” said the study’s first author Zhang, a graduate student at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

“Nanotracers are able to carry much more information about the reservoir, from temperature distribution to fracture geometry,” Zhang elaborated.

Medical researchers have experimented with medications contained within nanoparticles that circulate through the human body and melt or open at a certain temperature. While the temperatures below the Earth’s surface are far higher, the geothermal nanotracers function in a similar manner, allowing researchers to better map the underground heat sources.

When reservoir engineers inject tracers into a geothermal field to map it, they conduct tests at multiple sites that span a relatively large area. Currently, when the particles pop back up in other wells, it is nearly impossible to determine which well they started from. This limits the crucial information needed to better harness geothermal energy resources.

“Adding DNA to the nanotracers largely resolves this issue,” Zhang said. “DNA has a nearly infinite number of sequences. By encoding each batch of tracers with a unique DNA signature, we could get a much clearer picture of the temperature distribution and fracture geometry that we need.”

In the study, Zhang and her team embedded synthetically derived DNA molecules between silica nanoparticles and an additional silica shell. Following this, they injected the particles through packed sand at various temperatures to observe if the unique DNA tags and silica shells weathered the journey, mirroring what they might experience in the field.

“We were surprised to find that the particles could survive temperatures as high at 302 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees C), meaning that they could possibly survive the extreme environments of geothermal fields,” Zhang said.

While currently developed geothermal fields could benefit from a better understanding of the subsurface, the future of geothermal power likely lies in enhanced geothermal systems, where humans inject water underground to fracture the rock.

“The results from this initial study represent a significant step toward our goal of characterizing geothermal resources that are presently difficult to exploit,” commented the study’s coauthor Roland Horne, the director of the Stanford Geothermal Program.

“Each enhanced geothermal system is unique based on the underlying geology and fracture geometry,” Horne said. “To develop those systems properly, we will need to know how those fractures join together and how the temperature field is distributed.
DNA-embedded nanotracers could be a powerful tool that would help realize geothermal energy’s global potential.”

Conservative estimates indicate that geothermal energy might, if harnessed properly, provide 5% of the world’s power supply if enhanced geothermal systems can be optimized. While that number might sound small, Horne and Zhang view geothermal as playing an important role in our energy future.

“Five percent of 22,000 billion kilowatt hours is still a lot of energy,” Horne concluded.

MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center Dreams Up Innovative Fusion Technology for Geothermal

Paul Woskov has a very special rock collection.

Woskov, a senior research engineer at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), is utilizing a gyrotron, a specialized radio-frequency (RF) wave generator developed for fusion research, to investigate how millimeter RF waves can create holes through hard rock by melting or vaporizing it. Penetrating deep into hard rock is necessary to access what constitutes essentially limitless geothermal energy resources, to mine precious metals, or to explore new options for nuclear waste storage. However, as people in the industry know, drilling is a multi-layered, costly process, and current mechanical drilling technology has limitations. Woskov believes that powerful millimeter-wave sources could increase deep hard rock penetration rates by more than ten times at lower cost than current mechanical drilling systems while simultaneously creating other practical benefits.

“There is plenty of heat beneath our feet,” Woskov said, “something like 20 billion times the energy that the world uses in one year.” But, Woskov noted, most studies of the accessibility of geothermal energy are based on current mechanical technology and its limitations. They do not consider that a breakthrough advance in drilling technology could make possible deeper, less expensive penetration, tapping what Woskov calls “an enormous reserve of energy, second only to fusion: base energy, available 24/7.”

Current rotary technology is a mechanical grinding process that is limited by rock density, deep pressures, and high temperatures. Specially designed “drilling mud,” pumped through the hollow drill pipe interior, is used to streamline deep drilling and remove the excess cuttings, returning them to the surface through the ring-shaped space between the drill pipe and borehole wall. The pressure of the mud in addition keeps the hole from collapsing, sealing, and strengthening the hole during the process. Still, there is a limit to the pressures such a borehole can withstand, and under normal circumstances holes cannot be drilled beyond 30,000 feet (9 km).

Woskov poses a question: “What if you could drill beyond this limit? What if you could drill over 10 kilometers into the Earth’s crust?” With his proposed gyrotron technology this is theoretically possible.

Woskov finds it amusing that drilling engineers have a hard time comprehending that his technology does not use the costly drilling mud they depend on. But, he explains, with a gyrotron, high-temperature physics will replace the mechanical functions of low-temperature mud, letting drillers extract rock matter through vaporization or displace the melt through pressurization. Similarly, the high temperature melted rock will seal the walls of the borehole, and the high pressure from the increased temperature will prevent collapse. In principle, because an increase in temperature in a confined volume results in an increase in pressure over local pressure, drillers could maintain the stability of a borehole to greater depths than possible with drilling muds.

Woskov notes another advantage: “Our beams don’t need to be round. Forces underground are anisotropic – not symmetrical. That is one reason holes collapse. But we can shape our beam to respond to local pressures. You can create an elliptical hole with the major axis corresponding to the anisotropy of the forces, essentially recovering the strength of a round hole in a symmetrical force field.”

Later this spring, Woskov is planning to relocate his operation base from the PSFC to the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) in Kirkland, New Mexico, to take advantage of a microwave source that would allow him to perform experiments at a power level a factor of 10 higher than currently possible in the MIT laboratory. Woskov would be able to move from drilling rocks in the 4-6 inch range to those in the 2-4 feet range. He is especially interested in investigating how well the rock can be vaporized, which would only be possible with the higher power available at AFRL.

Support for this project originally came from MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), which in 2008 provided seed funding and after that a follow-up grant. Although Woskov continues to pursue ways his technology can advance geothermal energy research, his current support is from the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Science, through Impact Technologies LLC, which funds him to explore deep bore hole storage of radioactive and nuclear wastes. At 6 km deep, such bore holes would place waste much farther from the biosphere than is possible with near-earth depositories such as Yucca Mountain. The bottom 2 kilometers of the hole would sequester waste, capped with a 2-km seal – which is currently considered the “weak link” in the process. Woskov is experimenting with melted basalt and the more viscous granite to discover how he can seal the holes with melted rock, which could provide the most secure entombment of the waste products.

His current project exploits the high energy of fusion technology to see how effectively it can melt materials. Woskov predicts numerous other uses for the microwave technology. The high-temperature pressures of microwaves could be used to break apart rocks for mining, or could excavate rock to carve out tunnels and canals. It could also be utilized in fracking in place of pressurized water, which is controversial due to a limited supply and the resulting water contamination.

“Energy trumps matter,” Woskov concluded.


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