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Google to Invest in Geothermal


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August 19, 2008, 2:04 pm

Google to Invest in Geothermal

By Tom Zeller Jr.

Google.org, the public-spirited division of Google.com, charged with addressing “climate change, poverty and emerging disease,” is using the backdrop of the National Clean Energy Summit here in Las Vegas to announce a new round of clean energy financing.

In a nutshell, the company is investing an arguably modest sum — a little over $10 million — in the development of Enhanced Geothermal Systems, or EGS. The technology differs from “traditional” geothermal in that rather than exploiting existing wells of earthbound steam and hot water, EGS drills deep — miles down — to access layers of heated granite that exist underfoot everywhere on the planet. Water can be circulated downward for heating, and then upward to drive turbines and generate electricity.

Andy deconstructed EGS in the wake of an Energy Department study last summer:

There are successful plants harvesting heat from deep hot rock in Australia, Europe and Japan, the report noted, adding that studies of the technology largely stopped in the United States after a brief burst of research during the oil crises of the 1970s.

The report’s 18 authors, from academia, government and industry, said that a public investment of less than $1 billion spread over 15 years would probably be enough to overcome technical hurdles and do initial large-scale deployment of the technology.

The generating capacity by 2050 could be 100 billion watts, about 10 percent of the country’s current generating capacity.

Google added an explanatory video to its YouTube channel yesterday:

Of course, $10 million in R&D support is measly against the roughly $1 billion the Energy Department suggests would be needed to really deploy EGS on a mass scale, but the three beneficiaries of Google’s venture are surely not complaining. They include AltaRock Energy, which will receive $6.25 million; Potter Drilling, slated to get $4 million; and the Geothermal Laboratory at Southern Methodist University, which is engaged in mapping geothermal potential in North America will receive about $490,000.

Said Google in a press release this morning: “While the US debates drilling in the ocean for oil, we are focused on drilling for renewable energy - and lots of it - right beneath our feet.”


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