AltaRock, a new company headquartered in Sausalito, California, has become one of the leaders in “enhanced geothermal” technology, a geothermal energy solution that begins where conventional geothermal systems leave off. Instead of relying on select areas where underground “hot spots” are easily tapped and injected with water that returns in the form of steam to drive an electric generator, enhanced geothermal takes advantage of modern drilling technology and, theoretically, can establish a geothermal power system virtually anywhere. By drilling as deep as necessary to find hot rock, and then “hydraulically stimulating” the fissures by pumping cold water down to the bottom of the bore, the volume of the fissure can be enlarged, allowing economic flow rates. In this manner, enhanced geothermal technology allows a developer to create a geothermal resource instead of relying on something already established via natural processes. This technology makes geothermal power something that can be developed at a far greater scale than previously possible.
Earlier this month Altarock signed an agreement with Weyerhaeuser Company allowing them to “explore the potential for developing geothermal projects in California, Oregon, and Washington.” This region is about 667,000 acres, or a bit more than 1,000 square miles. The fact that a company with holdings of this magnitude has embraced AltaRock to explore and develop enhanced geothermal systems is certainly testimony to the potential of their technology.
A recent MIT study estimated EGS “could supply up to 10 percent of U.S. electricity needs within 50 years at prices competitive with fossil fuel-fired generation.” And it appears enhanced geothermal technology is being taken seriously outside the U.S. as well, with a massive development already underway in the Cooper Basin in Southern Australia.
For more information about enhanced geothermal energy check the DOE website’s Enhanced Geothermal Technologies page, or Wikipedia’s reference: Hot Dry Rock Geothermal Energy.