New Report Finds Geothermal Energy Could Provide Power Equivalent to the Needs of Over 65 Million U.S. Homes
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today released a new analysis quantifying the potential of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) as a widespread renewable energy option in the United States. Prepared by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Enhanced Geothermal Shot Analysis for the Geothermal Technologies Office finds that the goal of significantly expanding EGS deployment by cutting costs 90% to $45 per megawatt-hour by 2035 is ambitious but achievable with technology advances.
The Enhanced Geothermal Shot aims to unlock Earth’s nearly inexhaustible heat resources to provide reliable, clean power for U.S. communities and grow a robust domestic geothermal industry. More than five terawatts of heat resources—enough to meet the electricity needs of the entire world—exist in the United States. The Enhanced Geothermal Shot Analysis concludes that the United States could affordably capture enough of these resources to provide power equivalent to the needs of more than 65 million U.S. homes.
“The United States has vast geothermal energy resources just beneath our feet, and this analysis shows that we can make it affordable to bring that power to the surface and into U.S. households and businesses,” said Alejandro Moreno, Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “Our aggressive research, development, and demonstration efforts will drive down costs and advance EGS technology, opening up new domestic energy options and helping communities and workers transition to a clean energy future.”
Geothermal energy currently generates about 3.7 gigawatts of electricity in the United States. Using EGS could significantly increase this amount by tapping energy that’s not accessible with current technology. Natural geothermal systems exist in the presence of heat, permeability, and fluid underground. In traditional geothermal systems, small underground pathways conduct fluids through the subsurface and carry energy in the form of heat to the earth’s surface, where it can be captured to drive turbines and generate electricity. When conditions are not suitable for bringing that energy to the surface—specifically, when the rocks are hot but not very permeable or contain little water—creating humanmade reservoirs by carefully injecting fluid into the hot rocks can enhance the size and connectivity of fluid pathways by creating or reopening fractures. Once created, this reservoir—an EGS—functions just as a traditional geothermal system does.
The Enhanced Geothermal Shot Analysis builds on DOE’s landmark 2019 GeoVision report, which provided groundbreaking estimates about the future potential for geothermal energy. The new analysis includes modeling assumptions reflecting recent technology advances and uses updated estimates of EGS resource potential. Findings indicate that, by 2050, the total amount of installed domestic geothermal capacity could reach 90 gigawatts-electric (GWe). The analysis also indicates the potential for EGS deployment throughout the U.S. West, as well as in several states east of the Mississippi River, including Mississippi, West Virginia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, by 2050. As confirmed in the GeoVision, unlocking EGS resources will also support widespread deployment of geothermal heating and cooling, which will help decarbonize homes, buildings, and communities.
The Enhanced Geothermal Shot is DOE’s fourth Energy Earthshot™, and elevates the decades of research, development, and demonstration efforts, including at DOE’s current flagship of EGS research, the Frontier Observatory for Geothermal Energy Research (FORGE) in Utah. President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also advances EGS with $84 million to support four pilot EGS demonstration projects that will provide valuable information about EGS in different geographies and geologies. Last week DOE’s Office of Science also announced $200 million for DOE’s national laboratories to conduct Energy Earthshots research, including three EGS topics.