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Geothermal Industry Looks to Compete with Solar and Wind as a Renewable Energy Game Changer
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October 07, 2013

Geothermal Industry Looks to Compete with Solar and Wind as a Renewable Energy Game Changer

By Tammy Marie Rose
TMCnet Contributing Writer

Leaders in the geothermal energy field met in Las Vegas recently and agreed that if geothermal is to even consider competing with solar and wind, they need to up their game. They expressed the need to focus on education, lobbying and cost-cutting if geothermal is to play a role in the renewables revolution.

Recently released federal data shows that there are around 3.78 gigawatts of installed geothermal capacity here in the United States. Though that amount is the most in the world, it is only 0.32 percent of the total U.S. generating capacity. These numbers are extremely low considering that geothermal has the ability to produce 24/7. 

Halley Dickey, director of geothermal business development at TAS Energy, says, “Wind and solar are available [intermittently], and that’s not a great deal of the time. Geothermal is available when you need it and when you call for it.”

The issue with taking advantage of the presence of geothermal energies is the development cost. Even with today's technology, it costs too much to do exploratory geothermal wells, and often the exploratory wells do not pan out. Drilling wells also comes with risks; geothermal drilling is far more difficult and more expensive than gas and oil drilling.

“Reduce the risk, and naturally your overall costs will come down, from 20 percent in today’s market to the 12 percent to...14 percent for the development phases of wind and solar,” Gradient Resources CEO Craig Mataczynski explains.

“The question is, if we’ve got a new technology, who’s willing to take the risk?” Louis E. Capuano of Capuano Engineering asked. "We’ve got to get more projects out there so we can try the technology.”

Leaders in geothermal energy believe that more support from Washington would greatly aid the industry. Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association says, "Wind and solar have seen decades of support. We’re just a decade behind where the wind industry is today.”

Bob Sullivan, VP of business development for Ormat Technologies, believes that the industry would be greatly benefitted if regulators, "more fully appreciated the value of geothermal." He called it a “great example of market failure that the cost of steadily producing geothermal is compared directly to that of wind and solar, which have hidden costs due to their intermittent production." Sullivan pointed directly to, "ramping costs and to transmission lines that aren’t used to their full capacity with the intermittent sources."

“These are some of the factors not being accounted for,” Sullivan added. He did express confidence in the California Public Utilities Commission, for one, would “correct for the integration costs,” and by doing so would level the playing field for geothermal.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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