Based on current projections, the United States faces the need to increase its electrical power generating capacity by 40% (approximately 300,000 Megawatts-electrical or MWe) over the next 20 years (Energy Information Administration, EIA - Department of Energy). A critical question for the near future is the extent to which geothermal resources can contribute to this increasing demand for electricity. Geothermal energy constitutes one of the nation's largest sources of renewable and environmentally benign electrical power, yet the installed capacity of 2860 MWe falls far short of estimated geothermal resources. This is particularly true for the Great Basin region of the western United States, which has an installed capacity of about 500 MWe, much lower than the 7500 MWe resource estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in the late 1970s. The reasons for the limited development of geothermal power are varied, but political, economic and technological developments suggest the time is ripe for a new assessment effort. Technologies for power production from geothermal systems and scientific understanding of geothermal resource occurrence have improved dramatically in recent years. The primary challenges facing geothermal resource studies are (1) understanding the thermal, chemical and mechanical processes that lead to the colocation of high temperatures and high permeabilities necessary for the formation of geothermal systems and (2) developing improved techniques for locating, characterizing and exploiting these systems. Starting in the fall of 2002, the USGS will begin work with institutions funded by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Geothermal Research Program to investigate the nature and extent of geothermal systems in the Great Basin and to produce an updated assessment of available geothermal resources.
Additional publication details
Geothermal Systems of the Great Basin and U.S. Geological Survey Plans for a Regional Resource Assessment