Idaho State University's National Geothermal Student Competition team presenting their research findings at the 2012 Geothermal Resources Council spring/summer meeting. | Photo courtesy of the Geothermal Resources Council.

The Snake River Plain -- stretching over three quarters of Idaho -- contains one of the greatest potential sources of geothermal energy in America. Yet efforts to harness this vast renewable energy resource have proved elusive. Despite the obstacles, a team of students at Idaho State University decided to tackle the challenge themselves as part of the Energy Department’s National Geothermal Student Competition.

The annual National Geothermal Student Competition challenges university teams to conduct cutting-edge research that could lead to breakthroughs in geothermal energy development. For Idaho State, the competition offered a unique opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to the energy challenges presented by the Snake River Plain.

“Sometimes in these difficult situations, you have to explore things in a different way,” explained Michael Ginsbach -- student lead for Idaho State’s 2012 competition team. For Michael and fellow team members -- Adam Koster, Rebecca Ohly and Holly Young -- that meant striving to better understand the geothermal heat sources available beneath the surface of Snake River.

Working with mentors at Idaho State and the Idaho Geological Survey -- the students tested for any area of Snake River that suggested the presence of geothermal energy. Special attention was paid to pinpointing areas where geothermal resources could seamlessly be connected to existing power transmission infrastructure. 

“Our testing was designed to provide a new model for geothermal exploration,” said Michael. The team’s groundbreaking approach helped them secure a first place finish in the 2012 competition and spark local interest in Idaho’s geothermal potential. “We’re helping put the ideas out there and get people who hadn’t thought of geothermal before to start thinking about it,” said Michael.

Now in it’s third year, the National Geothermal Student Competition is once again tapping into the innovative ideas of students to set a path forward for geothermal development in the United States. Registration for the 2013 competition is open through March 29. Submit your application and learn about contest requirements by visiting the competition website.

Learn more about geothermal energy by visiting our Geothermal Topic Page