U.S. geothermal could supply 7 million people

Report shows state-by-state analysis of how much U.S. geothermal energy power is potentially available if current projects are completed.

If current projects under development are completed, the U.S. could have as much as 10 gigawatts of geothermal power at its disposal, according to a new report from the Geothermal Energy Association.

Through several extraction methods, geothermal energy harnesses heat from the Earth for the purpose of heating and cooling buildings or for power generation. Many have argued for years that geothermal is an underestimated resource for clean electricity.

There are currently 144 new geothermal projects under development in 14 states. If successful, those projects could add up to 7,100 megawatts (7 gigawatts) of power to the existing 3,100 megawatts of U.S. geothermal energy output. That would give the U.S. a total of roughly 10 gigawatts of power capacity from geothermal energy, according to data from the GEA's report (PDF) released Wednesday.

"At the high end, that would be enough baseload power to supply about 20 percent of California's total electric power in 2008--or enough generating capacity to supply the power needs of about 7.2 million people," the GEA said.

The GEA gives a state-by-state breakdown, listing how many new geothermal projects are under way and the potential amount of energy they could collectively generate. Nevada leads with 64 new projects that could add a geothermal capacity of up to 3,473 megawatts. California, Oregon, Utah, and Idaho follow respectively, with capacities ranging from 238 MW to 2,436 MW. Here's the breakdown:

  1. Nevada, 64 projects, potential 1,876-3,473 MW
  2. California, 37 projects, potential 1,842-2,436 MW
  3. Oregon, 13 projects, potential 317-368 MW
  4. Utah, 10 projects, potential 272-332 MW
  5. Idaho, 5 projects, potential 238-326 MW
  6. Alaska, 6 projects, potential 70 to 115 MW
  7. New Mexico, 1 project, potential 20 MW
  8. Arizona, 1 project, potential 2-20 MW
  9. Colorado, 1 project, potential 10 MW
  10. Hawaii, 2 projects, potential 8 MW
  11. Florida, 1 project, potential 0.2-1 MW
  12. Louisiana, 1 project, potential .05 MW
  13. Mississippi, 1 project, potential .05 MW
  14. Washington, 1 project, MW potential "unspecified"

The Geothermal Energy Association is a trade association with an office in Washington, D.C., that promotes public policy to advance geothermal energy projects. The GEA member list reads like a who's who list of major energy and technology companies, some of which are directly invested in geothermal projects.

But it's not just the GEA touting the praises of geothermal as a viable renewable energy source.

In May, President Obama announced that $350 million of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding would be used by the Department of Energy to accelerate the development and deployment of geothermal projects. It's an unprecedented amount of government backing for geothermal, according to both the DOE and the GEA.

That same month, Dan Reicher, director of climate and energy initiatives at Google.org, said at an Massachusetts Institute of Technology event on clean energy that his organization sees geothermal as a great untapped resource.

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