Geothermal energy—the “heat beneath our feet”—is a firm, flexible source of clean, secure, and reliable domestic energy that can be utilized across industrial, commercial, and residential sectors. Geothermal energy offers important benefits to the nation, including grid stability, greater diversity of affordable energy options, efficient heating and cooling, key technology and workforce pathways from oil and gas to renewable geothermal development, and lower carbon emissions to help transition Americans to a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero emission economy by 2050, while ensuring the clean energy economy benefits all Americans.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) works in partnership with industry, academia, DOE’s national laboratories, and other stakeholders to increase deployment of geothermal energy resources through research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) targeting geothermal exploration and production. GTO focuses on accelerating innovation and expanding opportunities across the geothermal resource spectrum: from low-temperature and direct-use resources to the frontier of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). GTO conducts research under its most recent statutory authorizations: The Energy Act of 2020 [Title III, Section 3002], the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) [Title VI, Subtitle B, § 611] and the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) [Section 931(a)(2)(C)]. The Energy Act of 2020, which mainly modified the EISA, authorizes RD&D across the geothermal spectrum, including hydrothermal resources, EGS, and low-temperature applications, as well as work in critical materials, thermal energy storage, integrated energy systems, technical assistance, and stakeholder outreach and education. EISA outlines geothermal energy research activities as related to the Act’s Accelerated Research and Development statutes, while EPAct provides the basis for RD&D and commercial application for geothermal technologies—specifically calling for research to develop improved technologies for reducing the costs of geothermal energy installations.
To better understand the potential for and pathways to increased geothermal use across the U.S. energy portfolio, GTO conducted the GeoVision analysis—a multi-year research collaboration among national laboratories, industry experts, and academia. The analysis assessed opportunities for geothermal stakeholders to expand geothermal energy deployment, as well as calculated economic benefits to the U.S. geothermal industry and the potential environmental impacts of increased deployment. The analysis also investigated opportunities for desalination, mineral recovery, and hybridization with other energy technologies for greater efficiencies and lower costs.
The GeoVision analysis illustrated that geothermal is America’s untapped energy giant in the race to achieve ambitious climate progress. Key findings about the future for geothermal energy are summarized in the 2019 report, “GeoVision: Harnessing the Heat Beneath Our Feet" and include the potential for a 26-fold increase in geothermal power generation by 2050, a market potential for geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) to supply 28 million households with heating and cooling solutions, and economic potential for geothermal district heating (GDH) systems up to 17,500 installations. Geothermal deployment in the electric and nonelectric sectors combined could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 26 million cars from U.S. roads annually. The GeoVision analysis also showed the criticality of improving permitting timelines and demonstrated potential to grow clean energy jobs and local economic benefits.
To realize deployment growth such as that outlined in the GeoVision analysis, geothermal energy must overcome significant barriers. Primary among these challenges is the subsurface nature of geothermal, which leads to both technical barriers (e.g., the need for better exploration technologies) and nontechnical barriers (e.g., land access and permitting).
This document, the GTO Multi-Year Program Plan (MYPP), builds on the findings of the GeoVision analysis, outlining a 5-year plan of activities GTO will pursue to support the growth and long-term contribution of geothermal energy to the U.S. electricity grid and American homes and buildings. The MYPP outlines GTO’s vision and mission and presents a high-level technology plan for key areas of GTO research starting in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 and running through the end of FY 2026. This research plan supports GTO’s contributions toward the opportunities outlined in the GeoVision analysis.
GTO considers the key findings of the GeoVision analysis to be clear evidence of geothermal energy’s role as a critical enabling technology in the nation’s aggressive, zero-carbon energy transformation. Thus, GTO has adopted the following strategic goals to reach geothermal energy’s full potential:
Strategic Goal 1: Drive toward a carbon-free electricity grid by supplying 60 gigawatts (GW) of EGS and hydrothermal resource deployment by 2050.
Strategic Goal 2: Decarbonize building heating and cooling loads by capturing the economic potential for 17,500 GDH installations and by installing GHPs in 28 million households nationwide by 2050.
Strategic Goal 3: Deliver economic, environmental, and social justice advancements through increased geothermal technology deployment.
In addition to this Executive Summary, the MYPP includes the following sections:
The Opportunities for Geothermal Energy: Briefly describes geothermal technology and its value to the United States; outlines GTO’s role within the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE); and summarizes GTO’s vision, mission, Research Areas, Strategic Goals, and how the office organizes around strategic research and deployment focuses.
Geothermal Technologies Office Technology Plan: Outlines GTO’s primary Research Areas that cut across GTO’s structure, including challenges and barriers, highlighted performance goals, and high-level topics of expected research through FY 2026. The Research Areas are:
- Exploration and Characterization
- Subsurface Accessibility
- Subsurface Enhancement and Sustainability
- Resource Maximization
- Data, Modeling, and Analysis
- Geothermal Integration and Awareness
Program Evaluations: Describes GTO’s anticipated evaluative information needs and types of priority evaluation activities, e.g., peer review.
The MYPP will serve as an operational guide to help GTO strategically plan and execute research and development activities and will serve as a resource to help communicate to stakeholders and the public GTO’s 5-year priorities and opportunities that will allow geothermal energy to contribute to a carbon pollution-free electric sector by 2035 and a net-zero emission economy by 2050. The Research Areas discussed in the MYPP provide the foundation for GTO’s research activities. As presented in the MYPP, these Research Areas and the topics discussed in each are intended to provide enough structure to guide research activities while also allowing GTO to adapt activities to changing market and technology conditions. Research Areas in the MYPP ultimately support GTO’s key strategic goals discussed previously. GTO’s intent is to revisit this MYPP around FY 2024 to assess progress and identify areas of potential revision. The level of revision will depend largely on technology advancement and market changes, updates to DOE and EERE priorities, and GTO’s progress toward highlighted performance goals. As noted, the plan outlined in the MYPP is intended to provide a solid basis for research while allowing GTO to adapt readily to a dynamic domestic and global energy landscape.