Google recently announced that it has begun using carbon-free electricity from a geothermal project to power data centers in the state of Nevada.
Tim Latimer is chief and co-founder of Fervo Energy based in Houston, Texas. His company is working with Google on its geothermal project.
Latimer said that getting electricity on the grid from geothermal resources is an event many new energy companies never reach.
He added that he believes geothermal energy will become more well-known than in the past.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has long suggested geothermal could be an answer to climate change. The IEA said in a 2011 document that geothermal could reach 3.5 percent of global electricity production each year by 2050. The Paris-based international group says geothermal energy could prevent almost 800 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
Fervo Energy is using this first test to launch other projects that will provide more electricity to the grid. The company is currently completing some work in southwest Utah for a 400-megawatt project.
Google and Fervo Energy started working together in 2021 to develop geothermal power. The plant near Winnemucca, Nevada, is now operating and is sending about 3.5 megawatts to the grid. There are three wells there.
However, the data centers require more electricity than that. So, Google signed other agreements for solar energy and electricity storage too. The company has two plants in Nevada, one near Las Vegas and the other near Reno. Michael Terrell leads climate efforts at Google. He said the company is considering using geothermal energy for other data centers worldwide.
“We’re really hoping that this could be a springboard to much, much more advanced geothermal power available to us and others around the world,” he said.
Google announced in 2020 that it would use what it calls “carbon-free” energy every hour of every day, wherever it operates, by 2030.
Many energy experts believe huge companies like Google can play a part in increasing the use of clean energy.
Terrell noted the company was also an early supporter of wind and solar projects, helping those markets grow to where they are today.
“It’s a very similar situation. Now that we’ve set a goal to be 24/7 carbon-free energy, we have found it will take more than just wind, solar and storage,” Terrell said.
The path ahead
The United States leads the world in using heat from the Earth for electricity production. But geothermal makes up less than half a percent of the nation’s total electricity production, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2022, that geothermal power came from California, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, Oregon, Idaho and New Mexico.
Those are states thought to have geothermal possibilities because they have large amounts of steam or very hot water close to the surface.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said earlier this year that advances in new geothermal systems will help introduce this form of energy to areas where it has been thought to be impossible.
Some geothermal companies, including Fervo, are now going deeper below ground. This makes it possible to find energy in more places. Latimer is a former drilling engineer in the oil and gas industry.
Drilling technology got much better during the shale boom that turned the United States into a top oil and gas producer and exporter. But very little new technology has gone from the oil and gas industry to geothermal, said Fervo official Sarah Jewett.
In October, Latimer gave a presentation at ClimateTech 2023, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Latimer told the conference about how Fervo is developing horizontal drilling in geothermal reservoirs. By drilling horizontally, Fervo can reach more of the hot reservoir, instead of drilling many wells straight down.
Both Fervo and Google said geothermal is valuable as a clean energy technology that is always available. Fervo’s next project, in Beaver County, Utah, is to begin providing clean power to the grid in 2026 and reach full production in 2028.
“This is unlocking something deeply sought after in the market today…and that is, round-the-clock renewable energy,” Jewett said.
I’m John Russell.
Jennifer McDermott reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
geothermal – adj. of, relating to, or using the natural heat produced inside the Earth
grid – n. a network of equipment that supplies electricity to a large area
carbon dioxide – n. a gas that is produced when certain fuels are burned
emission – n. something sent out or given off
springboard – n. something that helps you start a process
shale boom – n. refers to the combination of technologies and drilling methods that greatly increased recovery of oil and natural gas in the U.S.
horizontal –adj. positioned from side to side rather than up and down (vertical)
reservoir –n. a place where something is stored in large amounts by design: for example, a man-made lake is a reservoir of water
renewable – adj. restored or replaced by natural processes