- Geothermal can achieve gigaton scale by 2020 - contingent on development of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) - for an investment of $919 billion.
- EGS development will require an estimated $1 billion in R&D to be market ready.
- Major areas for technology support include transmission, drilling, reservoir stimulation, downhole pumps, energy conversion, and exploration.
- Geothermal will ramp slowly; each project requires roughly 5-7 years.
- Existing hydrothermal (naturally occurring geothermal) resources are projected to be able to contribute 90 GW of installed capacity if fully developed, or 40% of the gigaton target of 238 GW.
Unlike intermittent alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and photovoltaics, geothermal can provide base load power; it is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with capacity factors often exceeding 90%. Moreover, geothermal produces little or no carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions. A large- scale expansion of geothermal energy production could have a huge impact in lowering world greenhouse gas emissions and helping to wean the global economy from fossil fuels. An increase of approximately 238 gigawatts (GW) of geothermal electricity capacity over today's installed base of 10 GW would reduce CO2e emissions by 1 gigaton per year.
Despite geothermal's great potential, scaling the industry up in such a short time frame presents a number of challenges. The primary challenge is to bring EGS technology to market, because existing hydrothermal resources are estimated to be capable of supplying only approximately 40% (90 GW) of the additional capacity needed globally, i.e., not enough to achieve gigaton-scale emissions reductions. Although in principle EGS can be commercialized given enough funding and support, the Gigaton Throwdown 10-year time frame for achieving the technological advances and scale-up of geothermal energy is more rapid than has previously been considered.
The scale-up investment would be at least $800 million to $1 billion for EGS technology development alone, and research and development and deployment (RD&D) money would need to be accessed rapidly. Strong policy measures would also be needed to push technology development forward and encourage capacity increases. Notably, $350 million in U.S. federal funding was recently approved as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In addition to RD&D funding, large amounts of capital will be required for new power plants. The estimated capital investment to build new geothermal power plants is $919 billion, with an average cost of about $3,900/kilowatt (kW) installed. Scaling up to meet the gigaton goal would produce more than a million jobs with 35,000 created in the next 3 years. Challenges to accelerated deployment include workforce expansion, drilling, transmission, and large component infrastructure expansion.