Going Back to the Well (Again): Harnessing Geothermal Energy’s Potential
When it comes to powering U.S. homes, oil and gas and geothermal energy are pretty similar: Both use comparable technologies and processes to locate and drill resources that generate electricity. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that one key step to unlocking the full potential of geothermal—one of the cleanest and most dependable forms of renewable energy—may lie inside millions of American oil and gas wells.
Old Tech, New Tricks
Geothermal energy captures the heat beneath our feet by harnessing hot water or steam from the earth to power electricity-generating turbines. Its production requires no fossil fuels, and the water can be injected back into the ground for reuse. Plus, geothermal energy isn’t dependent on weather, season, or time of day—it can be produced around the clock, all year long.
Although commercial geothermal electric-power production began in the United States more than half a century ago, geothermal accounts for just 0.4% of U.S. electricity generation, due to geographic, technological, and permitting limitations. Historically, geothermal electricity generation has been confined to areas with naturally occurring hydrothermal resources—heat in the earth, along with groundwater and rock characteristics (i.e., open fractures that allow fluid flow) sufficient for recovering heat energy. In the United States, those resources are found mostly in the West, leaving other regions with less potential for geothermal electricity generation.
That’s where our nation’s oil and gas wells can come into play.