Heating up

2013 National Geothermal Summit

AltaRock Energy co-founder Aaron Mandell spoke at the National Geothermal Summit.

AltaRock Energy co-founder Aaron Mandell spoke at the National Geothermal Summit.

Photo by SAGE LEEHEY

Visit geo-energy.org for more information.

The Geothermal Energy Association hosted the National Geothermal Summit with the Geothermal Resources Council and the University of California, Davis’ California Geothermal Energy Collaborative at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino last Wednesday and Thursday.

The event brought together industry professionals and leaders, policy makers, students and academics to speak and discuss, via panels and presentations, the state of geothermal energy in the U.S. Other topics included new technologies, how to value geothermal energy for power purchase agreements (PPAs), and what should be done for the future of geothermal energy.

One of the more publicly controversial topics of the summit was Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS). However, it was not a controversial matter to those speaking because they were speaking about current EGS projects they were involved in. The speakers were senior Calpine Corp. vice president Mike Rogers, AltaRock Energy co-founder Aaron Mandell, Energy and Geoscience Institute professor Joe Moore and state geologist Jim Faulds.

EGS involve using a process that is essentially the same as the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process of the gas and oil industry to increase the permeability of hot dry rock in order to extract geothermal energy. Normally, geothermal energy cannot be extracted unless the naturally occurring heat, water and rock permeability allow for it, but EGS essentially create the conditions necessary by introducing the water via high pressure injections that cause seismic activity and fracture the rock, allowing for steam to rise up to the surface through the wells.

Mandell explained that a chart within a report from MIT in 2006 is what sparked his attention in EGS and believes that the information behind it is why EGS is important.

“MIT concluded that there is 28,000 times more potential EGS energy than we consume total, which is just a massive number,” Mandell said. “So I think that it’s a very important resource, and we can’t get to it unless we bring down the cost and develop technologies like EGS.”

The consensus of those speaking at the presentations about EGS and the future of geothermal energy seemed to be that EGS is the future and that there just needs to be more funding for the development, testing and implementation of projects, such as AltaRock Energy’s Newberry project in Bend, Ore.

Leah Sabbath, a geology major from the University of Rochester, spoke about what she thinks the geothermal industry needs to do in the future. Her answer revolved around using the knowledge and skills of students throughout the country to the advantage of the geothermal industry as a whole. As an example, she explained that a student intern or employee could map out areas to help find geothermal systems that do not have surface expressions, like geysers. These are called blind systems.

“Grad student internships are really cheap for companies,” Sabbath said. “Oil and gas companies use grad students as interns and to do research … Geothermal really needs to be doing this to be finding their blind systems. A $6,000 summer salary for a grad student or intern is really nothing for a company. Research and technology to figure out how to decrease drilling costs is expensive. Geology students are not.”