Hidden Systems

Finding hidden geothermal systems could accelerate the development of new, commercially viable geothermal energy.

The Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) is on the lookout for geothermal sources without obvious markers—like hot springs—on the Earth’s surface.

GTO aims to drive down costs and risks associated with the discovery of hidden geothermal systems in the Basin and Range regions of the western U.S. and elsewhere.

Play Fairway Analysis

GTO’s Hidden Systems work builds on its Play Fairway Analysis (PFA) initiative, conducted from 2015 to 2020.  The GTO PFA initiative sponsored research and development to adapt PFA techniques from the oil and gas industry to the geothermal industry.  

  • PFA is a technique that targets the identification of undiscovered or “hidden” hydrothermal systems by incorporating the regional or basin‐wide distribution of known geologic factors that control the occurrence of a particular species in geothermal systems.
  • By conducting PFA in unexplored or underexplored regions, or by using new play concepts in basins with known geothermal potential, GTO investments quantified and reduced uncertainty in geothermal exploration—ultimately yielding a potential 30 gigawatts of additional power from energy hidden deep in the Earth. That highly successful effort yielded many favorable prospects that will require further study to unlock potential.

Hidden Systems Initiative

In 2020, the GTO Hydrothermal Program initiated the Hidden Systems Initiative, emphasizing the importance of discovering these geothermal systems.

  • The Hidden Systems Initiative sponsors integrated research, development, and deployment focusing on moving undiscovered resources through the phases of project development where risk is highest: pre-survey, exploration, and test drilling.
  • Although these phases of project development may have relatively low costs, they strongly influence a developer’s accuracy in well targeting and the probability of success during more advanced drilling phases when costs add up rapidly. Improved exploration has a direct impact on lowering overall development costs and accelerating geothermal deployment.

The Play Fairway Analysis and Hidden Systems Initiatives are part of GTO’s Hydrothermal Resources Program activities. Learn more about these efforts and GTO Priorities.