US Geothermal industry sees steady growth in 2012

Mar 01, 2013 12:00 AM

The Geothermal Energy Association has released its 2013 Annual GEA Industry Update, which found that installed geothermal capacity in the United States grew by 5%, or 147.05 MW, since the last annual survey in March 2012.

This considerable increase in capacity is part of a larger trend of steady geothermal growth over the past decade, and can be attributed to seven geothermal projects that came online in 2012.

GEA also revised its last year's estimate of total installed capacity upward by 128 MW, bringing current installed U.S. geothermal capacity to 3,386 MW. The report was released at the State of the Geothermal Energy Industry Briefing (#GEABriefing2013) in Washington, D.C.

Geothermal power plants are operating in eight states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

There are also a staggering 175 geothermal projects currently in development, equal to 5,150-5,523 MW of known geothermal resource. Of this number, 2,511-2,606 MW are potential capacity additions in the next decade. Geothermal development is underway in Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, New Mexico, Texas and Washington.

Total US Geothermal Installed Capacity by Technology (MW) 1975 - 2012

"Since Congress passed the 2005 Energy Policy Act, geothermal power has been growing. In the first decade after EPAct, the U.S. is posed to add 1,000 MW of geothermal power, more than 10 times as much geothermal capacity as during the previous decade. This report indicates that there are over 2,500 MW more that could come online in the next decade," said GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell. "We are headed to 6,000 MW of geothermal, but could do much more," he added.

Gawell continued: "To achieve even more dramatic growth, geothermal power needs continued and predictable federal incentives to spur investors to undertake the risk of investing in new geothermal projects.

"Governments need to cut the time it takes to manage leasing and permitting-it should not take seven or more years to complete a project. Industry needs consistent and sustained research support to develop new technology, reduce risk and spur technological innovation. State renewable standards need to recognize the full benefits of geothermal power to their power system reliability and the environment."

In the past year, capacity was installed by five different geothermal companies. U.S. Geothermal brought its San Emidio Repower and Neal Hot Springs plants online in Nevada and Oregon, respectively, while Ormat brought both its Tuscarora and McGinness Hills plants online in Nevada.

The Silver State also welcomed the nation's first co-production plant, developed by ElectraTherm at the Florida Canyon Mine, as well as Terra-Gen Power's Dixie Valley project. EnergySource's John L. Featherstone (Hudson Ranch 1) project was the only plant to come online in California, but its 49.9 MW capacity was the highest of any 2012 project.

The report also noted that technological advancements in geothermal stand to bolster an already strong industry. In addition to ElectraTherm's co-production plant, 2012 also saw the completion of the nation's first hybrid solar-geothermal plant at Enel Green Power North America's Stillwater facility. Though no new capacity was added at this plant, hybrid technology presents an additional opportunity to grow geothermal capacity in the future.

Enhanced Geothermal Systems technology (EGS), as well as the potential to generate geothermal electricity from fluids left over as a byproduct of oil and gas production, represent even more unconventional yet effective ways to tap the earth's geothermal resources.

"Our industry is, and always has been, ahead of the curve when it comes to technological advancements," Gawell added. "The tireless innovation and ingenuity of geothermal companies, bolstered by supportive government programs, will serve to bring even more affordable power online in the coming years."

California, the U.S. and world leader in geothermal, increased its installed capacity to 2,732.2 MW over the past year, while the nation's second leading geothermal state, Nevada, reached 517.5 MW. The Golden State and Silver State also have 33 and 75 projects in development, respectively. Utah (19), Oregon (18) and Idaho (11) are among the other states with a significant number of projects in development.

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