Class in session
The country’s first geothermal energy academy opens in Reno
On the first week of the first national geothermal energy program in the United States, Colton Dudley was feeling excited about the future.
“Geothermal has so much potential,” said the University of Nevada, Reno student from Gardnerville. “It’s at the same point oil was before it met its boom. … It’s there, we just haven’t gotten to it. I just want to be part of it. I want to help solve the energy problem. … You could start sending this everywhere. We could start exporting it. We’re so dependent on other people for energy, it’s kinda scary—it’s really scary! If we could flip that around, [the U.S.] could be back where we were before.”
Dudley is one of 52 students spending part of their summer at the new National Geothermal Academy at UNR’s Redfield campus. Though based in Reno, the academy is taught by geothermal professionals from across the U.S., and students represent 20 states and 12 countries. Some are already industry professionals, sent to the academy—often by their companies—for the full eight weeks or a one-week focused course, where topics such as permitting, exploration, drilling, plant design, and business will be covered.
Sema Tekin of Turkey is working on a geothermal project with a company in that country. “I think if I join the program here, I’ll get a better insight into geothermal from A to Z,” she said. And Claudia Fierro and Chris Reyes of California were sent by their employer, the Imperial Valley Irrigation District, which would like to bring geothermal power to the utility.
The professors—from 15 universities, geothermal companies and consulting firms—have been active in the industry for decades. Jefferson Tester got into geothermal in the 1970s, after a major oil embargo got the United States thinking about energy alternatives. He found that his background in chemical engineering and oil refineries was well-suited for geothermal energy. He went on to become director of MIT’s Energy Laboratory, among other things, and now directs the Cornell Energy Institute. He says “the grand vision” for the country is to transition from high-grade, easy-to-find geothermal energy to lower grade systems that will still work economically, so that geothermal energy can be used to provide not only electricity for the western U.S., but also heating and cooling across the nation.
“Understanding the options and how to pursue them is a big piece of making these decisions,” he said. “Young people are at the heart of this. If we aren’t working on them—we want to teach the next generation of who will solve energy problems.”
Wendy Calvin, director of the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy at UNR and coordinator of this academy, says UNR was selected to house the academy, in part, because Reno has a lot of geothermal companies. Nevada also ranks first in the nation for geothermal exploration projects underway and second, behind California, for total megawatts from geothermal sources.
The U.S. Department of Energy awarded the University of Nevada a $995,000 grant to create and operate the academy, which has been 10 years in the works.
“It’s so interesting,” said Dudley of geothermal energy. “Why not talk to the top 20 people in the country for two months?”