Geothermal Developments from California to Dubai

Check out the new flyer for the 4th Indonesia International Geothermal Convention and Exhibition! 
In this post:

*Comments Notice: UNFC Geothermal Specifications open for Public Comment
*Dubai to Explore Feasibility of Geothermal Energy Usage for Desalination
*Energy Grid Operators Say Expansion Would Save $1.5 Billion
*Geothermal Power at the Geysers Proves Resilient and Key To Renewable Energy Goals
*Officials Weigh Geothermal Energy Leases Near Valles Caldera
*Magnets Used to Extract Valuable Rare Earth Elements from Geothermal Plants

Comments Notice: UNFC Geothermal Specifications open for Public Comment


The Geothermal Working Group has finalized the text of the draft document :

“Specifications for Application of the United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Energy and Mineral Reserves and Resources 2009 (UNFC-2009) to Geothermal Energy Resources”.

The draft specifications are available from 6 June 2016 on the UNECE website for public comment for a period of 60 days. A Cover Letter from the Geothermal Working Group and the Director of the UNECE Sustainable Energy Division is also provided.

The Geothermal Working Group operates jointly under the Task Force on Application of UNFC-2009 to Renewable Energy Resources of the UNECE Expert Group on Resource Classification and the International Geothermal Association’s Resources and Reserves Committee.

According to the Renewables 2016 Global Status Report published by REN21 on 1 June, about 315 MW of new geothermal power capacity came online in 2015, bringing the global total to 13.2 GW. However, this represents only a 2.4% increase over 2014 figures. Whilst there is great potential for the development of geothermal energy, both for direct use of heat and electricity generation, particularly in the developing world, a lack of clear guidelines and standards is an impediment to geothermal energy becoming a viable option at a global scale. Through this public comment the views of all stakeholders are being sought to ensure development of robust specifications that could be used by governments, regulators, industry and financiers alike.

All members of the Expert Group on Resource Classification and the Group of Experts on Renewable Energy are encouraged to seek input from their constituencies in carefully reviewing and commenting on the draft text.

Comments can be submitted in three ways: (i) via the online form; (ii) via e-mail, or (iii) in paper copy to me at the mailing address in the footer to this message. Full details are available on the UNECE website.



Please note that the deadline for submission of comments is close of business Central European Summer Time (CEST) on Thursday 4 August 2016. All comments received will be made publicly available on the UNECE website.

The members of the Geothermal Working Group and, in particular, the Chair, Professor Gioia Falcone (Cranfield University, United Kingdom) and the International Geothermal Association, are thanked for their significant efforts in preparing the draft specifications.

Dubai to Explore Feasibility of Geothermal Energy Usage for Desalination


Having taken the lead on developing solar power, Dubai is on the hunt for other renewable sources of energy it can harness, such as the seas of the Gulf of Oman and the steam from the earth.

Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) is requesting proposals for an early-stage feasibility study on producing electricity from geothermal energy and its use in desalination – the process of removing salt from water to make it potable.

The other area of focus for the study will be to, for the first time in the country, gauge the potential for tidal, wave and ocean currents as a source for power generation.

Dubai’s Clean Energy Strategy includes the aim to generate 75% of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2050.

Geothermal energy from beneath the Earth’s surface, the heat that creates hot springs, needs to be at temperatures of more than 200°C to be a prime candidate for power generation. The UAE’s temperatures are much lower than this, making geothermal more suitable for applications such as desalination rather than power generation, according to experts.

Steve Griffiths, the vice president for research at Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute, which has been studying the potential for geothermal in the UAE, said that using this kind of energy for desalination was the most viable option, as the GCC’s geothermal resources were only suitable for low-temperature applications, averaging about 100°C.

“It could be viable – the details will need to be worked out, but if there’s a tender for geothermal-based desalination, it’s not insane,” Mr Griffiths said, adding that the attractiveness resulted from the UAE’s efforts to “decouple power and water systems”.

“So it could be running as a stand-alone water desalination application, which could be cost-competitive with [other conventional approaches] such as reverse osmosis,” he said.

The hydrocarbon-rich UAE does have the advantage that geothermal energy can be found with the same drilling techniques that are used to explore for oil and gas.

However, when it comes to ocean power, Mr Griffiths said that to date he had not seen anyone propose using the sea as a way to generate electricity at any level of scale. “Based on the known information on renewable energy resources in the GCC, you probably wouldn’t bank on this approach for any significant amounts of electricity,” he said.

According to the European Commission, it is estimated that 0.1% of the energy in ocean waves could be capable of supplying the entire world’s energy needs five times over.

But the fact is the technology just is not there yet. Using the sea to generate electricity has been deployed in only a handful of countries including France – and to date, nothing has been proven commercially viable.

Power generated from the ocean only totals about 500 MW globally, whereas solar photovoltaic applications totaling more than 64,000 MW are expected to be added this year alone, according to market analysis by GTM Research.

In any case, interested consultancies will have a chance to explore the options, with proposals to be submitted to Dewa by the end of the month.

Energy Grid Operators Say Expansion Would Save $1.5 Billion


California power grid operators released a nearly 700-page report recently that said expanding the transmission system into a regional asset would save state consumers up to $1.5 billion, create thousands of new jobs and promote the development of renewable energy.

The study issued by the nonprofit California Independent System Operator, or Cal-ISO, said connecting the grid to six or more Western states also would help the environment by reducing carbon emissions in coming years.

“We think this regional market will provide a platform for renewables to flourish,” said Keith Casey, a vice president for Cal-ISO, which manages about 80 percent of the state’s transmission lines.

The report, produced by a team of more than 30 researchers, economists and energy consultants, was required by a state law passed last year that required grid operators to study the prospect of regionalizing the transmission network.

The study found the regional grid would reduce carbon emissions in California by up to 5 million metric tons by 2030, or 8 to 10 percent of the state’s total electricity sector emissions. The Western region would see reductions of up to 11 million metric tons by 2030, an 8 to 10 percent reduction, the study said.

The cost savings would come from reduced purchasing costs and other efficiencies, the study said

Cal-ISO spent $2 million through March 31 on consultants to review the grid expansion. Several of the firms that produced the study also work for utility companies.

The report does not answer questions that lawmakers, consumer advocates and others have sought in the interest of making educated decisions about whether expanding the grid is a good idea.

For example, there is no explanation for who would be in charge of the regional entity. Right now, the governor appoints members of the Cal-ISO board, making them accountable to an elected leader.

Cal-ISO said it was close to finishing a revised set of governing documents and would release the plan as soon as next week.

“That’s still a work in progress,” Cal-ISO Executive Director Stephen Berberich told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. “We’re reviewing comments and revising the proposal.”

Grid operators also have yet to formalize transmission charges across the network.
One of the key benefits of regionalizing the system would be to create a uniform transmission charge, Cal-ISO said, but architects have yet to agree on its structure.

“As new entities consider joining, we’ll have to sort out how we deal with transmission costs,” Berberich said. “That’s a work in progress too.”

Last week, the California Municipal Utilities Association wrote a letter raising questions about the merits of the expansion and the haste in which it is being considered.

“CMUA has repeatedly emphasized its position that the pace of this process could prevent an adequate and transparent analysis of complex issues,” wrote Michael Bell, the association’s interim chief executive.

Supporters of the regional grid, including Gov. Jerry Brown, say the plan will help California reach or even exceed its goal of generating at least 50 percent of the energy it consumes from renewable sources like wind and solar power.

Critics point out that PacifiCorp, the for-profit company based in Oregon that Cal-ISO would partner with, generates most of its electricity from coal and gas.

Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog said he was surprised the 688-page study did not include any review of what could go wrong – like when a deregulation bill adopted by lawmakers in the 1990s led to widespread price-manipulations and huge spikes in power bills.

“It feels like we’re in a flashback to 2000 and 2001,” he said. “All the same forces are at work getting us to roll the dice in order to pump up investor profits and take it from ratepayers’ wallets.”

The California system operator also has been accused of withholding critical information about the project and criticized for requiring participants to sign non-disclosure agreements before reviewing expansion data.

The Imperial Irrigation District supplies water and power to thousands of homes and businesses in the Imperial Valley and parts of Riverside and San Diego counties.

Two weeks ago, the district filed a lawsuit accusing Cal-ISO of failing to comply with the California Public Records Act and turn over documents related to the proposal.

The complaint filed in Sacramento County Superior Court asks a judge to order Cal-ISO to release more details about the plan or show cause why the information should remain private.

“There is a history of (Cal-ISO) market traders using market power to set prices,” the complaint alleges.

The system operator has scheduled a workshop for July 26 in Sacramento to further discuss plans to regionalize the state transmission grid. Officials from the Public Utilities Commission, Air Resources Board and Energy Commission will also attend.

Geothermal Power at the Geysers Proves Resilient and Key To Renewable Energy Goals


The Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal resource for electric power, is nestled 75 miles north of San Francisco among the sun-dappled Mayacamas Mountains of Lake and Sonoma counties.

To the naked eye the only sign of geothermal activity are the 17 geothermal plants that dot the rugged landscape and the steady hum of cooling towers.

The most developed geothermal area in the state, which has 25 known geothermal areas, is The Geysers. The Geysers is a unique resource that allows power plants to use steam to run turbines and generate electricity.

“Geothermal has been around for some time now, but unlike wind and solar, it is a 24/7 resource,” said California Energy Commissioner David Hochschild.

Tapping the energy at The Geysers means wells are drilled – some as deep as two miles – to bring steam to the surface and transport it to the power plants. Water is injected to replenish the steam. The steam is later piped from wells to power plants.

Calpine Corporation operates 14 of the 17 plants at The Geysers. The California Energy Commission, which certifies thermal power plants that are 50 megawatts (MW) and larger, has jurisdiction over six of them.

The plants can produce roughly 725 MW of electricity – enough to power a city the size of San Francisco.

Four of the six Calpine facilities under the jurisdiction of the Energy Commission were among the hardest hit by last year’s Valley Fire. The fire, which killed four people and burned a total of 76,000 acres, tested the resiliency of the operations at The Geysers.

Commissioner Hochschild and other Energy Commission staff toured The Geysers recently for a firsthand look at the status of operations in the wake of the fire.

The fire caused $100 million in damages. Cooling towers were destroyed and power transmission wires, pump stations and piping were damaged.

The Geysers is almost back to full capacity. Fire-resistant cooling towers made of fiberglass replaced the burnt ones. The Geysers’ power output on June 28 was 653 MW, just shy of the 685 MW produced on September 12, 2015 – the day the fire started.

Calpine officials say The Geysers is expected to be at full capacity by the end of the year.

Officials Weigh Geothermal Energy Leases Near Valles Caldera


Officials said Monday that parts of the Santa Fe National Forest could be leased for exploration and development of geothermal energy as early as 2017.

The U.S. Geological Survey has identified 195,000 acres west and north of the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Coyote, Jemez and Española ranger districts as having significant geothermal potential. And last week the Santa Fe National Forest released a statement draft on the environmental impact to help guide forest managers determine the viability of geothermal energy development on public lands.

“The big question right now,” said Larry Gore, a geologist with the Santa Fe National Forest, “Is there a resource north of the Caldera that could be developed? And that is completely unknown at this time.”

Geothermal resources consist of underground reservoirs of hot water or steam, as well as subsurface areas of hot rock. Geothermal steam reaches the earth’s surface as hot springs, geysers, mud pots or steam vents. Hot water also is found below the earth’s surface and can be accessed by wells to provide heat directly or to generate electricity.

A public meeting on the proposed project and the potential effects outlined in the draft will be held on Tuesday in the Jemez Puebloand Wednesday in El Rito. Members of the public will have until Aug. 22 to submit comments on the draft. The forest manager, Maria Garcia, is expected to make a final decision on whether leasing will occur by early 2017.

Gore said that during a scoping period in 2015, many people raised concerns about water pollution, disruption of wildlife habitat and livestock grazing ranges, seismic activity, and vehicle and dust emissions. Tribal communities also expressed fear that lands of cultural and religious significance would be disturbed.

Earthquake tremors have been noted near geothermal drilling in Switzerland and California, an issue that was addressed in the environmental impact statement. A study by the University of Santa Cruz in 2013 found “a strong correlation between seismic activity and operations for production of geothermal power,” it said.

But advocates of geothermal say it could be a job builder and an affordable energy project that could lessen the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.

James Witcher, a geothermal and geology consultant based in Las Cruces, said he supports leasing, but was skeptical of it gaining enough support to move forward.

Geothermal has the potential to generate large amounts of energy with minimal geological disturbance, taking up roughly the space of a football field, he said. It would be cheaper than importing nuclear power from other states, which New Mexico currently does, and wouldn’t rely on railroads or pipelines for transport like coal and natural gas.

“If [industries] are willing to spend money and risk resources to drill it and see if it is there, they ought to be allowed to do it,” he said. “Because it could benefit that part of the world.”

Witcher added that federal rules address concerns about water depletion and soil disturbance.

“One of the problems is [when] you mention drilling rigs and you mention bulldozers, there is an automatic knee jerk to that and people fight it,” he said.

New Mexico territories were first explored for geothermal potential in the late 1960s, identifying areas, predominantly around the Jemez range known for boiling natural hot springs, where energy could be developed by tapping into hot water and steam drawn from the earth’s crust. Projects were also proposed in the 1980s but failed to move forward.

But development interest was reawakened over the past four years, when Ormat Technologies Inc., an alternative energy company focused on geothermal development and based in Nevada, notified the Bureau of Land Management they would like to lease land in New Mexico for development. According to the environmental impact statement, there has been interest in leasing 46,000 acres in the Santa Fe National Forest.

Not all of the 195,000 acres in the project area are available for leasing. Some land is private or owned by the state and other governmental entities. And 32,000 acres are protected by conservation statutes, leaving 136,650 acres as potential leasing options.

Modeling studies have indicated hot rock exists that could be tapped into, but have not determined if it is accompanied by water or would require water to be injected to create steam, according to Gore. Only development would reveal this for certain, he said, and a company would have to weigh the economical benefit of work with an unknown result, even if leasing were to be approved.

“Everything we are doing is very speculative,” Gore said. “If the energy is needed, it is going to come from somewhere, so if we don’t do geothermal, there is going to be something else done to create that energy.”

Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or

If you go

* Public meeting on a geothermal project in Jemez Pueblo, 6 p.m. to 7:30 Tuesday, July 19, Walatowa Visitor Center Conference Room, 7413 N.M. 4, Jemez Pueblo, NM 87024

* Public meeting on a geothermal project in El Rito, 6 p.m. to 7:30 Wednesday, July 20, Rio Arriba County Rural Events Center, 122-A N.M. 554, El Rito, NM 87530

Magnets Used to Extract Valuable Rare Earth Elements from Geothermal Plants


Geothermal energy plants have the potential to generate enough electricity to meet the power needs of the US many times over without emitting any greenhouse gases. Generating revenue additional to power production may accelerate geothermal deployment in the United States and worldwide.

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office is exploring unique ways to extract valuable resources that are sometimes dissolved in the large fluid volumes brought to the surface by geothermal plants.

Brine pumped up from underground naturally contains minerals and other metals, such as rare earth elements, that are found within the hot rock below the Earth’s surface.

Extracting these valuable elements could provide geothermal energy producers with another revenue source – the sale of rare earth elements that are used in solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and many other clean energy technologies.

However, because the concentration of these elements is often very small, conventional extraction methods are simply too large, too expensive, and would degrade the efficiency of geothermal energy plants.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) laboratory fellow, Pete McGrail, and his team developed a new process to extract rare earth elements from geothermal brine using magnets and a unique nanomaterial. The new method introduces magnetic nanoparticles that have a shell made of metal organic frameworks (MOFs), into the geothermal brine.

The MOF outer layer carries molecules that are attractive to rare earth elements, causing the elements to stick to the nanoparticle. The brine is then passed through a magnetic separator to remove the nanoparticles, which are then treated to extract the attached rare earth elements. The now nanoparticle-free brine is then re-injected back underground as normal in a geothermal plant.

Using this method, PNNL test results showed a nearly perfect rare earth element extraction rate – 99.99, and attractive economics overall.

PNNL began developing and testing the magnetic partitioning method in 2014, during the first phase of the project. In 2016 and beyond, McGrail and his team will advance the technology with the help of an additional $1.65 million recently awarded by DOE.

PNNL’s industrial partners for the continued project are S.G Frantz, which will design and provide a lab-scale magnetic separator for system testing, sorbent manufacturer InnaVenture, and Global Seawater Extraction Technologies, which brings practical experience in commercial extraction of minerals from seawater.

For the second phase of the project, PNNL and industry partners will create a working prototype of the complete magnetic partitioning system and test it to determine the lifetime of the nanoparticles and overall efficiency of the technology. The system will be laboratory scale, but will be operated over conditions similar to those in a typical geothermal plant.

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