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Google, Australia Give Big Boost to Geothermal Energy


Mongabay.com
August 20, 2008


Geothermal energy got a big boost this week with Google and the Australian
government announcing multi-million initiatives that make use of Earth's
heat as a clean and renewable source of power.

Tuesday Google.org, the philanthropic arm of search giant Google, said it
will invest $10 million in "enhanced geothermal systems" (EGS) to improve
the potential of geothermal energy, which harnesses the heat of Earth's
core to generate power. The EGS process works by effectively mimicking a
geyser. Water is pumped through holes drilled into the hot rock deep below
Earth's surface. The resulting heated water and steam is then used produce
electricity in a conventional turbine. A study published this past January
by MIT researchers estimated that just 2 percent of the heat below the
continental United States between 3 and 10 kilometers deep is more than
2,500 times the country's total annual energy use.

The recipients of the investment include Potter Drilling, a firm
developing new technologies for hard rock drilling ($4 million); AltaRock
Energy, a company working on EGS ($6.25 million); and Southern Methodist
University Geothermal Lab, which will receive a $489,521 grant to "improve
geothermal resource assessment techniques and update the Geothermal Map of
North America", according to Google.

In making the investment, Google touted the potential of EGS to meet
global energy needs.

"EGS could be the 'killer app' of the energy world. It has the potential
to deliver vast quantities of power 24/7 and be captured nearly anywhere
on the planet. And it would be a perfect complement to intermittent
sources like solar and wind," Dan Reicher, Director of Climate and Energy
Initiatives for Google.org, said in a statement.

"Innovation is the path to massive quantities of cleaner, cheaper energy.
The people we're funding today have a real shot at lowering the cost of
EGS, and bringing us closer to our goal of Renewable Energy Cheaper than
Coal," added Dr. Larry Brilliant, executive director of Google.org.

Google's Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal ("RE>C") initiative aims to
generate a one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity "within years"
through solar thermal power, advanced wind, EGS and "other potential
breakthrough technologies".

Australia's investment

At nearly the same time as Google's announcement, Australia's government
announced AU$50 million ($43 million) in funding for the geothermal
industry to help make the technology viable for base-load energy
production.

"The potential of the geothermal industry in Australia is truly
staggering. Geoscience Australia estimates that if just one percent of
Australia's geothermal energy was extracted, it would equate to 26,000
times Australia's total annual energy consumption," Martin Ferguson,
Australia's Minister for Resources and Energy, said. "Geothermal energy
provides clean base-load power and is potentially a very important
contributor to Australia's energy mix in a carbon-constrained world."

"We could now see Australia's first commercially viable geothermal power
plants in place within four to five years."

The Australian government has set a target for 20 percent of the country's
electricity generation to come from renewable sources by 2020

 

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