Geothermal Resources Map Reveals High Potential through Google Grant

by Matt Ball on October 25, 2011

The Southern Methodists University Geothermal Laboratory has completed a detailed map of the geothermal resources in the United states with a grant from Google.org. The detailed research and resulting map indicate that there are ample stores of green power to be generated by the Earth’s heat via currently accessible technology.

The research is aimed at exploiting this energy store with Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) that produce heat and electricity by harnessing hot rock below the surface. Google is a proponent of this new approach, and has invested dollars in R&D and policy directives to move the technology along.

SMU conducted detailed research to compile 35,000 thermal data points across the U.S. to record the geothermal resources at the highest resolution map available to date. Their previous estimate released in 2004 had half the number of sites. With the detailed map data, SMU applied a model to determine that the estimated technical potential for the continental U.S. exceeds 2,980,295 megawatts, which is ten times the capacity of current coal power plants.

This new SMU estimate includes additional temperature data and in-depth geological analysis to produce the heat flow temperature-at-depth maps from 3.5 kilometers to 9.5 kilometers (11,500 to 31,000 feet). With this update it has been determined that some conditions in the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. are actually hotter than some areas in the western portion of the country, an area long-recognized for heat-producing tectonic activity.

Read the full SMU press release here for more details of the study that will appear soon in a report to the Geothermal Resource Council.

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