U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

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Technology Characterization

Photo of a well drilling rig. A man stands on the platform while another is climbing the rig.

GTO evaluates the benefits and risks of geothermal technologies, including well drilling operations as shown here.

Technology Feasibility and Cost Analysis is performed to determine the potential economic viability of geothermal energy production and helps to identify which technologies have the greatest likelihood of economic success. Results from technology feasibility analysis efforts provide input to the Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) portfolio.

The economic competitiveness of a technology is assessed by evaluating its implementation costs for a given process compared to the costs incurred by current technology. These analyses are therefore useful in determining which projects have the highest potential for near-, mid-, and long-term success. Geothermal system components of interest generally include: exploration and confirmation; well construction and drilling; reservoir engineering; power conversion; geofluid purchase; leasing and permitting; and operations and maintenance.

Modeling

GTO uses various modeling tools to assess geothermal technology and its environmental, economic, and energy benefits. The modeling tools GTO uses include:

GTO is currently developing a Co-production Cost Model to estimate the per-kilowatt cost of producing electricity from oil and gas wells to allow potential developers to estimate up-front construction costs and annual operation and maintenance costs.

Find more geothermal software and data collection tools to assist you with modeling and calculations.

Technology Development Methods

A part of its technology characterization process, GTO evaluates current and prospective geothermal technology development methods to help industry identify best practices and electricity generation potential in power plants. These best practices can then ultimately be used to help create streamlined policies for geothermal implementation.

Geothermal Capacity Factor

Photo of geothermal cooling towers with fans running. Mountains are in the background.

GTO is addressing capacity factor and the improvements needed to raise power production at geothermal power plants.

As geothermal power plants start to gain more acceptance, GTO is addressing capacity factor and the improvements needed to raise power production levels. Capacity factor is the ratio of how much energy a geothermal power plant produces relative to its actual power producing capabilities. It can be seriously affected by maintenance downtimes, parasitic plant and wellfield pumping loads, and temperature variations. By collecting and processing geothermal power plant data with the help of power plant operators, GTO is able to better understand, define, and improve capacity factor.

Additionally, GTO is conducting analyses on the variability of water use in different geothermal power plants (cooling, field operations, etc.) to identify possible improvements and conservation efforts. Learn more about GTO's water use analysis.

Geothermal Exploration

Industry experts are working with GTO to outline best practices for geothermal exploration, which include geologic research, remote sensing, and both surface and downhole geochemistry and geophysical techniques and how they are used throughout the United States. As best practices are identified, GTO is working with industry to develop a process to estimate exploration success rate, which is used to estimate potential project costs, in an effort to target funding for research into exploration success rate improvements. 

Geothermal Transmission

As geothermal power plants come online, geothermal energy has the opportunity to become a major energy contributor. However, the opportunity only exists if the technology can easily connect to the grid. GTO is examining ways to better understand how geothermal energy can play a part in the U.S. energy transmission landscape, including long-term resource planning and grid operations. Currently, several Recovery Act-funded projects are supporting regional planning efforts in the Western, Eastern, and Texas interconnections.

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Content Last Updated: 01/31/2013