Less than a year after announcing its deal with Merrill Lynch, Raser Technologies is set to open its first low-temp geothermal plant tomorrow in Utah. While it remains to be seen what happens when the switch is flipped, the company has so far made good on its promise to build geothermal plants in record time — it typically takes up to five years, and Raser has done it in less than one.
The 10-megawatt plant pulls together 50 small units to tap into a small sliver of 120,000 megawatts of low- and medium-temperature geothermal resources cataloged by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and U.S. Geological Survey. Raser claims accessing low- and medium-temp geothermal power could eventually help meet about a third of U.S. energy needs. “Many geothermal wells have already been drilled and capped in the past, but laid dormant because they were thought to be not hot enough to be economically viable,” says David West, VP of marketing for the company.
Such is the case with the company’s second plant, currently being built in New Mexico (it will be New Mexico’s first). The Utah plant is the first commercial-scale project to use Raser’s technology (in conjunction with UTC’s Power PureCycle binary geothermal systems), and it will supply power to residential homes in the Southern California city of Anaheim; subsequent phases may supply Utah. West cites higher demand in California for renewable energy, thanks to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, as the driver behind this first deal, but he says the goal is to eventually sell to Utah as well.
Raser also hopes to tap into California’s own vast geothermal resources, a goal the Bureau of Land Management recently made easier to achieve when it announced a plan to make about 118 million acres of Bureau of Land Management-managed public lands and 79 million acres of National Forest System lands in 12 western states available for future geothermal leasing.
Of course, this is all provided that the company’s technology — which mixes geothermal resources with a “working fluid” that boils at a much lower point than water to make commercial grade power from temperatures as low as 165 degrees Fahrenheit — and its modular power plant design work as well at a commercial scale as they have in pilot projects. “This will be the first commercial scale power plant connecting 50 units together to form a 10 megawatt power plant in the world,” says West. “The industry has its eye on this project: Its success could mean much more renewable energy could become commercially viable.”