Affordable, baseload, renewable power forged from the heat of the Earth could soon become the next game-changing technology to electrify economies across the world — and Utah is ground zero for this prime resource and new innovation.
On June 14, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Utah as its winning site to receive $140 million in federal funding to create a first-of-its-kind laboratory for developing enhanced geothermal systems, or man-made geothermal reservoirs in hot dry rock.
Led by the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute, in partnership with the Utah Geological Survey and Governor’s Office of Energy Development, the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy, or FORGE, will be located in the heart of Utah’s renewable energy breadbasket — Beaver County.
Enhanced geothermal systems offer a unique opportunity to bring renewable baseload power to market by utilizing techniques that have revolutionized oil and gas production through hydraulic fracturing, and that has propelled greater U.S. energy production, security and export opportunities than ever before.
Likewise, these systems could expand geothermal production significantly by engineering man-made underground water reservoirs wherever hot rocks are found — virtually anywhere. According to the Department of Energy, there are an estimated 100 gigawatts of enhanced geothermal system potential, and this technology could “power tens of millions of American homes and businesses.”
Supported by Utah’s unparalleled rural workforce and several world-class researchers, Utah is leading this new national opportunity and will soon become the global epicenter for geothermal exploration, driving new infrastructure and new investment in rural Utah. In fact, we’re just picking up steam.
While Utah currently ranks third in the country for geothermal production at 72 megawatts, we still have another 2,200 megawatts ready to be developed. Already, a new transmission line has been approved thanks to a public-private partnership with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Additionally, Rocky Mountain Power has issued a request for proposal for 40 megawatts of new geothermal energy to be developed, alongside more solar and wind. In Beaver County alone, renewable energy represents more than 45 percent (roughly $600 million) of its total assessed evaluation — a staggering percentage for one industry — and one that will continue to provide growing economic benefits.
Training the next generation of geothermal professionals continues to be a key priority of the state and the Energy & Geoscience Institute. The Office of Energy Development continues its commitment to power Utah’s rising energy workforce by developing hands-on energy lesson plans and activities geared toward K-12 students, including new curriculum and videos on geothermal energy coming this fall. The office also annually awards $30,000 worth of scholarships, in partnership with Chevron, to high school seniors wishing to pursue energy careers through STEM degrees or CTE training.
The University of Utah, in particular, has awarded more than 150 masters of science and doctorate degrees, putting the university at the forefront of geothermal research and development since the 1970s.
Lastly, a joint collaboration between the Office of Energy Development and the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative has resulted to create aligned research across all resources and major universities as envisioned in the Governor’s Energy Action Plan.
Through unprecedented partnerships that span public, private and educational organizations, FORGE is positioned to lead Utah and our great nation to new economic frontiers through baseload, renewable power that requires a minimal surface footprint.
As U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said Thursday, “Funding efforts toward the next frontier in geothermal energy technologies will help diversify the United States' domestic energy portfolio, enhance our energy access, and increase our energy security."7 comments on this story
Here in Utah, we know the power of a diverse energy portfolio. Thanks to Gov. Gary Herbert’s "all of the above" strategy in fueling wise development and innovation, I’m proud to say that Utah is experiencing an energy renaissance that’s putting us at the forefront of national geothermal leadership. With the growing domestic power needs and increased market demand for reliable renewable power, Utah is set to be the leader in geothermal research and development for decades to come.