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What Will it Take for Geothermal to be Cheaper than Coal

geothermalAccording to a new study from NYU, it would take about three billion dollars of DOE investment to get the costs of geothermal down to the cost of coal. That does seem like a fairly steep price when geothermal power seems so very free. But getting enough heat out of the ground to power turbines is no simple affair.

The study also found that previous DOE investments in geothermal provided higher returns in price drops and efficiency increases than investment in any other renewable resource.

There's a sense in the energy industry that geothermal is already a mature technology and that, unfortunately, it's never going to be practical on a large scale. However, the NYU study is pointing out that this is simply not true. New techniques are hitting geothermal from every angle. Some people are working on getting more heat out of geothermal wells, others are making electricity with cooler rocks while a third group of people are creating new ways to reach hot rocks with less money.

The study also determined (though we're not quite clear on how) that geothermal could get down to four cents per kilowatt hour with only $3 B of investment from the DOE. This seems rather fishy to me. But whether or not it will get down to grid parity, more focus on geothermal is definitely needed.

Via GreenCarCongress

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Comments (25)Add Comment
written by Jillian, July 21, 2009
Interesting. Thanks Hank!
written by Bob Wallace, July 21, 2009
You need to specify that you're talking about "wet rock" geothermal. Drilling down existing pockets of cheap 25mg cialis steam which are replenished by underground streams.

We've been using wet rock geothermal for decades in California and Iceland gets a major portion of their electricity from wet rock.

The technology that is more promising is "dry rock" geothermal. Everywhere on Earth there is significant heat under ones feet. Drill down, inject water, and steam comes back up.

There are two (at least) dry rock geothermal plants connected to the grid at this moment and Australia is doing a lot of development of more.

The holes required go no deeper than some oil wells (and even dug diamond mines), but they need to be larger diameter than do oil wells, and that seems to be the big problem that needs work.

There is a very interesting drill under development that uses water under very high pressure to do the drilling. This means that well drilling bits would no longer be part of the picture. No more dull bits to be replaced and stuck bits to be extracted.

Dry rock is a very important potential energy source. It can be installed close to point of use, thus eliminating long distance transmission lines. And it's 24/365.
written by Bob Wallace, July 21, 2009
Humm.... Should have read your post more carefully. And read the linked article.

The article is about a very promising development which would allow extraction of energy from sub-boiling temperature rock. That would mean being able to drill less deep. Drilling deep holes and lining them is expensive.

As for the $0.04 per kWh, I'm guessing that that's not what they mean by "cheaper than fossil fuels".

Four cents is the price of producing electricity in older, paid off plants which do not capture/secure their carbon outputs. New carbon sequestering plants would have to sell their electricity for a lot more money. Especially if they are built from the ground plants and canadian online pharmacy levitra not some sort of whiz-bang conversion of existing plants.

The price target that I've seen for geothermal is around a dime per. That would make it cheaper than carbon sequestered coal, natural gas and (new plant) nuclear. But more expensive than wind and likely more than solar as prices are expected to rapidly fall in the near future.

Copenhagen is already doing it.
written by Tom, July 21, 2009
The trick is to lower the pressure in the system, thus making the water boil at lower temperatures. It is the conversion to steam that gives ( and takes ) energy.
A small test system has been running in Copenhagen (Denmark) for years now.
Link in danish :
They use it to heat houses, and the temp in the ground is around 73degree's celcius.
Heating is a big expense in denmark as it is needed around 10 months a year.
But I saw a tv program that claimed that it would be possible to produce electic power from these systems at very low prices, but the cost of building them was quite high, and there does not seem to be intrest from the energycompanies at the moment as they have a big love for coal in Denmark.
It already is cheaper...just not subsidized
written by The Author, July 21, 2009
Geothermal, wind, solar...they're all already cheaper than coal if you forced coal to internalize all of the external costs the public/taxpaters bear on its behalf i.e. health costs, environmental costs, etc. Also, coal is a heavily subsidized industry, so talk of getting other superior forms of clean renewable energy "cheaper" than coal is a little misdirected.

Let's talk more about getting some of the ridiculous subsidies for coal removed and force the coal industry to start paying for a lot of the mess they create. I think then the playing field would definitely favor the better and cleaner alternatives to coal.
written by Fred, July 21, 2009
it'll take a lot of hard work and thinking!
Same as CCS
written by Carl Hage, July 21, 2009
The $3B is about the levitra without prescriptions same as what is pledged for government research in carbon capture on coal plants. Hmmm, is the $3B required because it matches CCS? Either way, it seems enhanced geothermal deserves a significant share of viagra sale the R&D money.
written by Zachary Stowasser, July 21, 2009
Thank you so, so, so, SO much for all your time and effort to report all this MUCH NEEDED, *POSITIVE* news!

You are so vital, please keep up what you are doing. If you are needing money feel free to ask for donations, I would help!

Your positive hopeful attitude towards the future is our only hope for survival.

Much love and cialis gel respect,

Zachary Stowasser

ps. tried to submit this via contact but nothing happened when I clicked it. tried with firefox and safari on my mac. also the email address doesn't work with a "+" sign, I use that with gmail to filter messages...
It's time to support clean coal technology.
written by Monica from ACCCE, July 21, 2009
It’s time to support clean coal technology here in the States, so we can export it to developing countries like China. Once the Duke Energy’s Edwardsport IGCC plant in Indiana is completed (it’s on schedule for 2012), this IGCC plant will be one of the cleanest coal-based power plants in the world, producing 10 times as much power as the existing unit with 45 percent less carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy produced.
written by Bob Wallace, July 21, 2009
Monica, we support clean coal technology. We've spent huge amounts of taxpayer money trying to find a way to economically sequester carbon from coal burning.

We have found no way to remove the carbon for a reasonable price. But we'll continue to spend some research money on what looks like it will be a rat hole.

In the meantime, it's time to quit using coal. In the last two years we've discovered that we have vastly more natural gas than we realized. We can economically convert existing coal burning plants to natural gas plants.

Lots of benefits follow:

1) Greatly less CO2 per unit energy produced.

2) End of mercury and other coal related pollutants pumped into our air, water and land.

3) End of "where can we pile up the ash?" problems.

4) And, very important to many of us, we no longer have to destroy our mountains and streams via mountain top removal.

Perhaps a 5, would free up a lot of railway for better passenger and freight hauling.

Now, isn't that a win-win both for electric producers and everyone else?

written by OakleighVermont Solargroupies, July 22, 2009
Let's not get distracted with so-called clean coal when we are talking about geothermal! People are drawing 60 degree water out of deep wells in Vermont to heat with, and 45 degree water out of shallower wells to cool with, it only becomes a matter of canadian pharmacy generic levitra drilling, a heat pump and circulating water to heat energy-efficient buildings. If we put the buy cialis online without a prescription 60 million dollars the fossil fuel lobbies have paid Congress over the past 10 years, into geothermal subsidies I think we would have it licked!
written by Bob Wallace, July 22, 2009
OK, I'm willing to let clean coal die. smilies/wink.gif

But how about we don't muddy the field by using "geothermal" when talking about ground assisted heat pumps?

I think it would be better to use geothermal to refer to the process of using deep Earth temperature to produce electricity.

But as long as you've steered us off topic to ground effect heat pumps, you acquainted with the subdivision somewhere in Canada that has installed solar heating systems on their garages, pumps the heat underground during the summer, and then uses it to heat occupied areas during the winter?

Danged clever, I thought...
written by russ, July 22, 2009
Again - off the main topic - Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP) are great except for one thing - cost. You get a small improvement over Air Source (ASHP) with no payback in sight when compared to ASHP - even considering increasing electric costs.

The units themselves are newer so less competition and the extra cost of the ground connection make the system unattractive. No government funds are really needed for research. The things have been around for something like 50 years.

@ Russ on GSHPs
written by bbm, July 22, 2009
Pricetag: $25 grand. That with digging up your entire yard. And any maintainence problems will be VERY costly.

For our office it was going to be about $250 grand (about $150 grand more than an air source system).

Apparently they are much better (as far as advantages in efficiency etc) for heating in the winter than airconditioning.

I suspect that it would be a LOT cheaper to just put up a solar array to power high efficiency air source air conditioning. And to up insulate the attic with some blow in cellulose and maybe a radiant barrier.

They may be more reasonable in the north for heating, however.
Geothermal greenhouse footprint not THAT low
written by bbm, July 22, 2009
At least not as low as you might expect: Carbon_footprint#Carbon_footprint_for_various_types_of_

Additionally, there are concerns about effecting crust stability if employed in a large enough fashion not unlike the concerns with hydro-fracturing for gas.

written by Bob Wallace, July 22, 2009
bbm - We've got something like 600,000 oil wells drilled into the ground in the US. We've known for 80-100 years that sometimes drilling triggers a small quake if there's sufficient pressure in the area. (I.e., it's about ready, in geological time, to move anyway.)

As far as I know none of the quakes have been of any consequence. They're the sort of shakers that we have multiple times per week here in California. They, for the most part, are detected only by sensitive instruments.

The triggering seems to be related to the fracking process. Liquids are lubricants. If you've got a lot of dry rock under pressure, holding together because of friction, and you lube them, well....

It's hard to see how we would ever want to drill even a small fraction of the number of holes that we've drilled for fossil fuels. But for those that we do drill, it might be "best practice" to avoid "active faults", those know to be under high pressure and to not drill close to densely populated areas.

Hope we don't have to deal with a lot of "mythers" like has happened with wind farms and birds...
written by Bob Wallace, July 22, 2009
Russ -

The $25k price of ground assist heat pumps doesn't make sense to me. (And you're not the only person to report very high costs.)

I'm guessing that the installation technology has not adequately developed to allow for economical and minimally damaged installation.

Right now we have "micro trenching" for installing optic fiber along highways. It digs a half inch wide slot through pavement.

Why aren't we seeing a small trencher, something like a Bobcat, that can dig down 20'-30' but only an inch or two wide and lay pipe as it goes?

Around here one can get backhoe work done for under $100 per hour. Unless there is significant rock to be sliced it would seem to be a short day job to cut and best quality levitra fill a few trenches.

Premium prices for early adapters?

written by Bob Wallace, July 22, 2009
Say Monica, Harvard has a brand new study out, all about the cost of carbon sequestering in new coal/electricity plants.

Harvard University researchers have issued a new report that confirms what many experts already feared: Stopping greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants is going to cost a lot of money.

Electricity costs could double at a first-generation plant that captures and stores carbon dioxide emissions, according to the report from energy researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center.

Costs would drop as the technology matures, but could still amount to an increase of levitra 10 mg 22 to 55 percent, according to the report, "Realistic Costs of Carbon Capture," issued this week

Your bosses give you any talking points on this yet?
written by bbm, July 22, 2009

Actually I wrote about the $25k quote for the GSHP.

You have to dig deeper than 20-30 inches to get meaningful temperature changes and have enough of a reservoir to get benefit.

You can either dig vertical wells (IIRC it was two wells for tubing per ton of AC about 150 ft deep each) or a large spiral form tubing array (less deep but tears up more yard). That's for a closed system. You can do an open system for less money, but it runs through a lot of ground water (like 10 gal/min IIRC).

I still think you do a lot better with solar pannels to power your AC.

I mentioned the crust stability issue in regards to geothermal because of the fact that a hydrofracking type process has been touted as a great/cheap/easy new way to exploit untapped geothermal resources, not because there's any "mything" going on.

written by Bob Wallace, July 23, 2009
I wrote 20'-30' as in feet.

The idea is to get water down to where the ground stays more or less in the mid-50s F and lots of places that is no more than a few feet.

Heat pumps pump heat from a warmer site to a cooler site. It's more efficient to pump in heat from 50 degree soil than from 20 degree air.

The need is to get ample amounts of pipe/surface area down below where season temperature swings would lessen the effectiveness.

Installing several feet of plastic pipe, each in their own very narrow trench with maximum distance between each 'run' would create a good heat exchange opportunity. Ir might even make sense to install multiple lines per trench, each separated by a few feet (that's feet ;o) by soil.

Since I'm inventing on the fly, in an area with dense clay soil it might make sense to backfill with sand or some other more permeable substance which would allow in more water and assist heat transfer.

Done correctly/carefully one would end up with a series of narrow parallel disturbed 'rows' in their yard which would need to be sodded or reseeded. But not with a "torn up yard".

I think we're just early in the game. Obviously panels might make more sense in some situations, say the deep South. Not so much in upper New York or Vermont.

As for seismic activity and fracking, yes, we've been there, seen that. The dry rock geothermal site at Basil Switzerland might have triggered a small tremor when it fracked.

The movement occurred eight days (IIRC) after the fracking liquids were introduced, not during drilling.

This was in an area of discount online levitra high tectonic stress so it's not really clear that the test site triggered the viagria shake or whether it would have happened on that day anyway.

That old problem of not being able to determine a slope with only one data point.

We can study the problem as it has been observed for a hundred years or so in the petroleum industry and proceed carefully rather than sticking our initial test sites in the middle of San Francisco.

My reference to mything is that this myth (or hyper concern) is already out there.

We've got one site with a minor tremor which it may or may not have caused. We've got other sites in which no tremors were observed. But some people are pushing the belief that geothermal will destroy the Earth.

(Not to mention people saying that we're going to pierce into the magma and create volcanoes....)

written by bbm, July 24, 2009
Yeah. I'm quite familiar with how they work, having, as I said above, priced out bids for my home and an office building.

As I noted above, if you are going to do shallow horizontal tubing arrays, in order to get adequate surface area contact etc, you need to do a large spiral array (like a giant "Slinky" toy). You need hundreds of feet... not a few feet. They are big and wide... = big deal= expensive. And that type is not as effective as a set of deep vertical tubing arrays (deep=expensive). There's no "magic solution" for the digging, I'm afraid. And that's if there's never any mechanical problems.

Here in SC at least you are much better off with like a 14+ seer air source HP and some solar pannels IMO.

written by Bob Wallace, July 24, 2009
Russ -

"Slinkies" are for very small yards. They aren't the installation of choice. The idea is to get ~500' of pipe in contact with soil and if one doesn't have a lot of area then what one has gets opened up and coils of plastic pipe is dropped in.

Slinkies, while the get a lot of pipe in the ground for pipe/soil contact, reduce the volume of how to get viagra soil being utilized as coils lay closely together, overlapping.

I suspect that even small yards could be better "heat mined" by installing multiple runs in the same trench, but at different depths. A tool that opened a narrow trench and simultaneously installed multiple runs of plastic pipe wouldn't do much damage.

(BTW, I mis-remembered depth. Normal installation of heat exchange fields is in the 3' to 6' range (1-2 meters.)
what doesformer president Bush use for heating his Crawford Texas home?
written by Richard Fletcher, July 29, 2009
I have read somewhere thatformer president Bush uses geothermal to heat and cool this Crawford Texas home. Does anyone know what is involved with that technology?smilies/cool.gif
Geothermal is Becoming More Popular
written by Michele, October 08, 2009
Check out my squidoo page on geothermal technology. Because of tax credits and energy savings it is really becoming more popular and affordable.
the cost of coal
written by geothermal pipe, December 31, 2009
Did they factor in the environmental and health costs of coal? That would probably bridge the gap even further.

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