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

Geothermal Technologies Office

Climate Change Update: Baseload Geothermal is One of the Lowest Emitting Energy Technologies

June 26, 2013

Geothermal energy – energy derived from the heat of the earth – has the ability to produce electricity consistently around the clock, draws a small environmental footprint, and emits little or no greenhouse gases (GHG).  Estimates of life-cycle GHG emission among power production technologies place geothermal as one of the lowest emitting energy technologies.1  Yet this resource remains virtually untapped in the U.S.  

In addition to generation of electricity, geothermal energy has a broad range of other applications including district heating, industrial processes, and direct space heating.  Not only are these applications inherently more efficient than current technologies, they also have the advantage of zero emissions due to the fact that no electricity is generated in these processes. 

The Department of Energy's geothermal R&D portfolio positions geothermal energy as a core component in the global race for clean energy by lowering technological risk and making geothermal energy more cost competitive.    

The United States is the world leader in installed geothermal capacity, with 3.4 GWe online; over 150 MWe of new capacity was added last year.  In installed capacity, geothermal energy offsets 25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of taking 5 million cars off the road. But, we are just beginning to understand the potential of this resource.  Analysis shows that future geothermal power, which will be realized through R&D successes and strong industry adoption, can include over 30 GWe from new hydrothermal resources, and more than 100 GWe from enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). Together, these technologies could lead to greater than 10 percent of U.S. electricity demand being met by this clean, sustainable, baseload energy source.

Learn more about the impact of geothermal energy on our climate in President Obama's plan to fight climate change and in this report, The President's Climate Action Plan.

1Argonne National Lab, Life-Cycle Analysis Results for Geothermal Systems in Comparison to Other Power Systems: Part II.  ANL/ESD/11-12, page 16, figure 31