Geothermal? Bring It On Geothermal Deserves a Starring Role in a Renewable Energy Future

Often called “the forgotten renewable,” geothermal power, which draws heat from deep beneath the earth’s surface and converts it into electricity, is an underutilized resource with huge potential. In May, a coalition of trade and business associations from the U.S., Europe, Canada, Chile and Australia signed an international agreement to promote geothermal power. The aim is to eventually generate 300,000 megawatts globally, enough to power some 300 million homes in the U.S.

Geothermal Power
The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station in Þingvellir, Iceland. Credit: Scott Ableman, FlickrCC

Geothermal is often not recognized by policies around the world,” says Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association. In the U.S., fossil fuels received about $40 billion in funds from the Department of Energy, nuclear $85 billion, and renewable only $17 billion from 1948 to 2007. And solar and wind have received more tax incentives than geothermal, making it doubly overlooked. The new International Geothermal Business Coalition aims to change that. “We can facilitate the growth of geothermal as a global energy player,” says Philippe Dumas, manager of the European Geothermal Energy Council. At a time when “international policies are becoming an important energy driver,” says Gawell, it’s important “to make sure that geothermal is included.”

The coalition is also working to share research and development, exchange information and develop new technology.

Gawell traces geothermal’s neglect to its outdated past, when it worked only in areas near tectonic faults that generated serious heat. Today’s technology is able to draw energy from medium and low temperature resources. Iceland has long relied on geothermal for its electricity, and Indonesia, Australia and Turkey are now developing this clean power source. Says Dumas: “Geothermal will be instrumental in constructing long-term energy scenarios for 2050.”