Steamy affair

Geothermal energy is hot in Nevada. This month, environmentalists, politicians, financiers and geothermal industry leaders from across the West are gathering at Bally’s Hotel in Las Vegas to talk about it. The Jan. 16 Geothermal Development and Finance Workshop is the third of its kind. When the first workshop was held in November 2006, four states were producing the clean, renewable geothermal power; now there are six.

"Nevada is currently among the leading states in the nation for the development of geothermal resources varying in temperature from high (>150 C) to low (100 C), although a vast amount of the state’s geothermal energy potential remains untapped,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website.

In May 2007, the Geothermal Energy Association, which is sponsoring the workshop, identified 31 geothermal power projects in Nevada at various stages of development, though most do not have power purchase agreements yet. “That combined would add 945 to 1,172 megawatts to your power production, which is frankly a quadrupling of geothermal power in Nevada,” said GEA executive Karl Gawell by telephone from his Washington, D.C., office. He said more projects are expected to be announced this year.

“As much as people think there’s a lot going on with geothermal in Nevada, there’s even more,” said Gawell.

Lisa Shevenell, PhD, is a research professor with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology at UNR and director of Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy. She’ll speak at the workshop about Nevada’s geothermal resource potential.

She said she and other experts met in 2005 and estimated that 1,500 megawatts could go online by 2015. Now, in 2008, Nevada has 300 megawatts online, with 30 more set for installation in the next few months and another 300 in the next couple of years.

“That 1,500 megawatt number is what we happened to know at the moment,” said Shevenell. “We’ve since discovered a lot of new resources.”

Shevenell says there are a variety of reasons why Nevada’s geologic environment is suitable for geothermal energy: “The Earth’s crust is spreading apart and makes the crust thinner. That allows heat to flow from the Earth’s mantle. … The spreading apart tends to open fractures that allow fluids to circulate. [Most] other areas [with those features] are associated with volcanic activity. The ones in Nevada typically are not.”