New Google Map Reveals U.S. Geothermal Resources 10 Times Greater Than Coal

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Google is searching for a way to make the U.S. more energy efficient and energy independent. As part of that effort, the Mountain View, California-based company’s philanthropic arm, “Google.org,” last week published a new Google Earth map of the geothermal resources in the continental United States, created from data collected by the Geothermal Laboratory at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, which received a $489,521 grant from the tech giant
for the project.

By Carl Franzen,  TPM

The new map, an update of a running one that SMU scientists prepared in 2004 and 1992, estimates that the technical potential of geothermal in the U.S. is nearly 3 million megawatts (2,980,295), or 10 times the capacity of all the installed coal power plants in the country today. It’s available to view in an image format and also as a downloadable KML layer file for Google Earth.

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SMU’s sampled data from 35,000 oil, gas and water well sites across the country for the study, twice as many sites as their last study, used to create the 2004 map. Many of the new data points were located in the eastern portion of the United States, where geothermal resources were thought to be far less viable than the new study has found. The most obvious geothermal resources, hot springs in the Yellowstone area, have been exploited as baths and for hot water heating systems since the first settlers moved West in the 1800’s.

“This assessment of geothermal potential will only improve with time,” said SMU geophysics professor David Blackwell, one of the new study’s co-authors, in a release posted on the university’s website. “Our study assumes that we tap only a small fraction of the available stored heat in the Earth’s crust, and our capabilities to capture that heat are expected to grow substantially as we improve upon the energy conversion and exploitation factors through technological advances and improved techniques.”

Indeed, as Google notes in its own blog post on the subject, many of the new geothermal resources uncovered will only be made viable thanks to new “advanced geothermal technologies,” including Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS), which involves injecting fluid into dry, hot areas up to 4 miles below the earth’s surface, where the temperature can get up to 360 degrees fahrenheit. As SMU explains, “EGS resources are typically deeper…and represent the largest share of total geothermal resources capable of supporting larger capacity power plants.”

Another advanced technology cited by Google that would allow the U.S. to harvest its untapped reservoirs of geothermal energy includes Low Temperature Hydrothermal, which basically tackles the opposite problem as EGS, getting hydrothermal resources out of areas with plentiful fluid, but often not as high temperatures, sometimes less than boiling (212 degrees fahrenheit). MORE …

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