In the continuing effort to develop electricity from renewable energy cheaper than from coal, Google, through its philanthropic arm, announced $10.25 million in investments in a breakthrough energy technology called enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). This announcement also includes funding for research on next-generation geothermal resource mapping, EGS information tools and a policy agenda for geothermal energy.

EGS expands the potential of geothermal energy by orders of magnitude. The traditional geothermal approach relies on finding occurring pockets of steam and hot water. The EGS process, by comparison, replicates these conditions by fracturing hot rock, circulating water through the system, and using the resulting steam to produce electricity in a conventional turbine.

A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology report on EGS estimates that just 2 percent of the heat below the continental United States between 3 kilometers and 10 kilometers, depths within the range of current drilling technology, is more than 2,500 times the country’s total annual energy use.

“It has the potential to deliver vast quantities of power 24/7, and be captured nearly anywhere on the planet. And it would be a perfect complement to intermittent sources like solar and wind,” says Dan Reicher, director of Climate and Energy Initiatives for

Google’s Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative focuses on solar thermal power, advanced wind, EGS and other potential breakthrough technologies. Google has set a goal to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity, enough to power a city the size of San Francisco, in years, not decades.

To advance EGS, announced funding for two companies and a university: AltaRock Energy Inc. received an investment of $6.25 million to develop innovative technologies to achieve significant cost reductions and improved performance in EGS projects. Potter Drilling Inc. received an investment of $4 million to develop new approaches to lower the cost and expand the range of deep hard-rock drilling, a critical element to large-scale deployment of EGS. Southern Methodist University Geothermal Labs received a $489,521 grant to improve understanding of the size and distribution of geothermal energy resources, and to update geothermal mapping of North America. Maps for geothermal potential have not been updated since 1974.

Dr. Larry Brilliant, executive director of states, “Innovation is the path to massive quantities of cleaner, cheaper energy. The people we’re funding have a real shot at lowering the cost of EGS, and bringing us closer to our goal of Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal.”

“EGS is critical to the clean electricity revolution we need to solve the climate crisis, but EGS hasn’t received the attention it merits. That’s why we’re pressing for expanded support from government and increased investment from the private sector,” adds Reicher. “We’re big believers in EGS and we’re looking for more opportunities.”

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