By 2050, deployment of carbon-free geothermal energy can help address the climate change crisis by offsetting more than 500 million metric tons (MMT) of greenhouse gases in the electric sector and more than 1,250 MMT in the heating and cooling sector—combining for the equivalent of replacing 26 million cars on the road every year (U.S. DOE 2019).

In the power sector, geothermal deployment can grow to provide 60+ gigawatts-electric (GWe) of firm, flexible clean energy by 2050, with a major expansion of geothermal power production in and outside the western half of the United States, where commercial geothermal power plants are currently concentrated (Augustine et al. 2019).

In the heating and cooling sector, geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) can be deployed in 28 million U.S. households by 2050, serving close to 25% of the entire U.S. heating and cooling market (Liu et al. 2019). GHPs represent a deployment-ready technology that offers a crucial pathway to decarbonize heating and cooling for single family homes, campuses, and cities across the United States.

Geothermal district heating (GDH), where geothermal energy heats buildings through a distribution pipeline network, has the promise to offset fossil fuel used for heating individual, commercial, and industrial buildings. By 2050, up to 17,500 GDH systems can be deployed in population centers along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, the Ohio Valley, Texas, and portions of the Southwest, serving 45 million households (McCabe et al. 2019).

However, these significant deployment opportunities will not happen without intervention. If geothermal develops along a “business as usual” pathway, only minimal growth and market share by 2050 will be realized—less than 1% in the electric sector and 7% in heating and cooling.

Geothermal’s power sector outlook will be positively impacted by streamlined regulations and policies that place geothermal on par with other clean energy generation technologies through tax incentives and clean energy standards. However, the major step-change in deployment—to allow geothermal to provide 60+ GWe of firm, flexible clean energy—relies on technology advancements across the geothermal life cycle, from de-risking exploration to lower-cost drilling and improved reservoir development to accurately capturing geothermal energy’s market value as a firm, flexible clean energy resource.[1]

The promise of geothermal heating and cooling to support deep decarbonization is also clear but will require improvements to both technology performance as well as increases in overall public awareness and consumer acceptance. For both GHPs and GDH, demonstration and deployment at scales ranging from isolated communities to grid-connected urban environments will validate system performance and underscore geothermal’s value to contribute toward decarbonizing heating and cooling loads, lowering peak energy demands, and improving site resilience. GDH technologies will also benefit from step-change advancements in geothermal power production to enable more efficient exploration, drilling, and reservoir production. For all geothermal heating and cooling technologies, it is imperative to pair demonstration and deployment activities with innovative outreach and engagement strategies that identify deployment pathways tailored to specific community needs.

The Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) will play a critical role in realizing these advancements in support of fully achieving geothermal’s status as America’s next energy powerhouse.

[1] Unpublished estimates from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have shown deployment potential to exceed 120 GWe by 2050 under aggressive decarbonization pathways