Geothermal Steams Forward, Under The Radar

Geothermal has long been touted as the only stable form of renewable energy because it produces constant 24-hour energy from hot rocks deep underneath the ground.

Like the energy it produces, the geothermal industry is proving to be strong and steady as well. According to a recent Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) report, the industry grew steadily in 2011, adding approximately 91 megawatts (MW) of capacity despite the prospect of a production tax credit expiring at the end of 2013.

image via Geothermal Energy Association

Geothermal power is perhaps one of the least well known of all the renewables, but it is a surprisingly massive potential source of green energy. Rocks can store an incredible amount of heat and deep beneath the surface of the Earth they can store the core heat from the center of our planet. (See Do the Math’s essay for a complete exploration of how geothermal works.)

Like oil rigs, geothermal plants must be located on specific sites of underground rock that have stored heat and are formed in a way that they can be drilled. Careless drilling can both lead to heat escape and earthquakes.

In a recent interview with AOL Energy, GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell said that preliminary geological studies in the western United States have found as much as 75,000 MW of undiscovered geothermal potential energy under the earth. There have been about 10,000-15,000 MW worth of identified systems in the region. Across the country, he believes there is much much more potential, especially if the U.S. Department of Energy invests more money into research and development and helps the industry unlock even more reservoirs.

Shifra Mincer is a freelance journalist and passionate tweeter (@Shiframincer) currently living in Israel. Before moving to Israel to apprentice with a homebirth midwife, Shifra worked as Associate Editor of AOL Energy, and was a member of the launch team that got the site up and running. Shifra has over a half a decade of experience in journalism and has written on women's health, green technology, politics and regulation of the energy industry, energy financial news, and local news. While studying for her B.A. at Harvard College, Shifra worked as a news editor for the Harvard Crimson. Shifra is also a yoga teacher and a birth doula and is hoping to create an active Jewish birth community through her web venture www.layda.org.