In order to secure investment, the geothermal industry needs improved assessment methods to prove reliable resources.
In a renewable energy report on geothermal technology, the renewable energy news web site Renewable Energy World.com covered the SMU Geothermal Laboratory‘s research to locate and quantify the huge geothermal resources available for production from existing oil wells within Texas. The article drew on the expertise of SMU geothermal expert Maria Richards, director of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory.
The article by associate editor Megan Cichon, “Where’s the Heat? Geothermal Industry Seeks Resource Assessment Tools to Spur Development,” published April 16.
SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory is a renowned national resource for the development of clean, green energy from the Earth’s heat.
SMU researchers have completed a national mapping project backed by Google.org that makes it possible to access reliable geothermal data (heat flow and temperature-at-depth information) culled from oil and gas development all over the country. Their mapping project already has determined that there is potential for more electric generation from geothermal sources in West Virginia than is currently being produced by the state’s mostly coal-fired generation plants.
By Meg Cichon
Renewable Energy World
Commissioning a geothermal project is no easy task. Of all the renewable energy technologies, it has one of the longest project lead times – it can take an average of eight years from start to finish. Due to its heavy front-end expense, developers must be as certain as possible that they are spending time and money on a viable resource. So when drilling through hot rock, imagine the developer’s surprise — and utter disappointment — when equipment suddenly melts away after hitting magma.
Though extremely rare, this exact scenario happened in 2009 at the Iceland Deep Drilling Project.
Located in the Krafla volcanic caldera, which is heated by centrally located magma chamber, drilling was expected to reach 4-5,000 meters based on preexisting modeling data and nearby well depths. But at little more than 2,000 meters, after days of slow, difficult progress, drillers were met with dramatically reduced resistance as the equipment shot straight through rock and into super-hot magma.
Since this mishap, the project team decided not to close off the well, but attempt to take advantage of the super-hot resource — an accomplishment in itself. However, this case brings up a long-standing issue in the geothermal industry: resource assessment.
It Starts with Data
Resource assessment starts with information. Existing geothermal data — including heat maps, existing well locations, geological surveys — can be a project developer’s best friend. However, this information had previously been scattered, disorganized, and simply impossible to find. Enter initiatives such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Geothermal Data System (NGDS).
Realizing the need for organized information, the Geothermal Technologies Office designed an information network that adds data from more than 10 information hubs across the U.S., and puts them in one centralized location. NGDS is also expanding its reach abroad.
Learn from Experience
The Southern Methodist University (SMU) Geothermal Lab, already a huge asset to the NGDS, is currently looking to a more experienced industry for geothermal opportunity. At the Renewable Energy World North America Conference and Expo, Maria Richards, coordinator at the SMU Geothermal Lab, explained that the program is now culling data of all the existing abandoned oil and gas bore wells in the United States.
The geothermal industry can take advantage of these wells and either co-produce with existing oil and gas plant, or go beyond that and revitalize the wells to produce geothermal electricity. In Texas alone, there are more than 3,100 oil fields with “extractable” thermal energy. “The infrastructure already exists,” said Richards, “we might as well exploit it.”
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