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Geothermal Energy and EGS : New frontiers of global energy quest

While the Indian government is striving to get nods of NSG to make its nuclear energy dreams come true, the quest for renewable energy options have encountered another significant development. (the philanthropic arm of Google) has decided to invest $10.75 million as parts of its RE<C (Develop Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal) initiative, whereas the Australian government is going to invest $ 27 million for a similar kind of goal. These initiatives are aimed to grab the heat, called geothermal energy, out from deep underground of earth, covered by kilometers of rock layers. Google is funding three diffirent organizations for the R&D and development of advanced EGS (enhanced geothermal systems) which would be much efficient and less expensive. Guardian explains EGS here:

Traditional geothermal technology harnesses naturally-occurring pockets of steam or hot water that rise from deep underground, bringing with them the energy stored by the rocks there. EGS allows those traditional techniques to be applied almost anywhere. By drilling deep into the Earth and pumping water into the hole, the underground hot rocks fracture, allowing the water to circulate and be heated. The hot water comes back the surface and is then used to drive turbines and produce electricity.

Here is a video which explains EGS technology:

To see how it works, here is the animated video of EGS sketchup model:

This development seems quite promising as most of the power plants have been using coal and there is not much worldwide development in other energy sources which could be renewable and eco-friendly. These most common energy resources, coal and gas, are not renewable and not widely available. Also, the natural reserve of coal is going to deplete very soon. Estimates of the world’s total recoverable reserves of coal in 2004 were about 998 billion short tons. The resulting ratio of coal reserves to production is approximately 164 years, meaning that at current rates of production (and no change in reserves), coal reserves could theoretically last for more than one and one-half centuries. Besides coal, oil and gas are only option which is being vastly used. But the availability, total reserve, and prices of oil are some factors which further add the requirement to look for other energy sources.

Nuclear energy is one such energy source which also depends on limited global reserve of natural resources required and it is arguably the most expensive form of energy. However, the continuous reduction in global coal reserve and rising prices of oil and natural gases leave no other options. As far as the expense is concerned, the scientists are continuously working on to reduce the cost in the fourth generation nuclear power technologies. It is the setup cost of N-plants which makes nuclear power plant sound unviable to many, however the running cost is quite lower. Besides, if this source will be used round the globe, the chances are that further developments will lead to reducing the costs. If these two hurdles – cost and complexity on agreements due to defense sector use of nuclear technology – could be broken or minimized at some extent, the nuclear power has the potential to provide energy security for the world. Besides, there are no many options left to the countries than utilizing this.

Now, the focus arrives at the renewable and climate-friendly energy resources. Nuclear power is also climate-friendly energy option, but not renewable. In the coming decades, the spotlight will be heavily and rigorously targeted at these sources. One, and most important, of them is “Solar Energy“. Swaminathan A Aiyer argues:

Decades of research have improved the energy efficiency of silicon-based cells from 6% to 15%. Crystalline silicon is expensive, but its price is predicted to crash in two years. Meanwhile, thin-film solar cells using other chemicals are being developed. They are less efficient but much cheaper. Another thin-film technology called CIGS promises to be both efficient and low-cost. The Economist magazine suggests that solar electricity will be competitive with coal-based power in three to eight years.
The sun provides more energy in one hour than the world consumes in a year. But this is a much diluted form of energy that needs to be collected over a large area. The roofs of buildings are obvious sites. We also need to seriously consider covering farmland. I suspect the future is solar.

Geothermal energy has the same potential and qualities. Not only it is renewable and climate friendly, the earth has stored much heat inside its body to make this energy options most promising. An MIT report discloses that tapping just 2% of the EGS resource between 3km and 10km below the surface of the continental USA could supply more than 2,500 times the country’s total annual energy use. On the other hand, Australian experts believe that tapping just 1% of the potential geothermal energy in the country could provide 26,000 years of energy supplies. What more, according to Google, all 50 U.S. states, Europe, Russia, China, and India all have substantial thermal resources accessible by EGS.

As part of RE<C, Google aims to trap the vast opportunities to produce large amount of energy sources via three main alternate renewable energy sources, which are: solar thermal, wind, and geothermal. According to,

it is confronting the climate crisis on two fronts: We’re working on developing utility scale renewable energy cheaper than coal (RE<C) and accelerating the commercialization of plug-in vehicles through the RechargeIT initiative. Our over-arching vision is that one day a large portion of the world’s vehicles will plug into an electric grid fueled by renewable energy.

These developments surely promise to keep the mankind away from energy blues.

Published in Current Affairs

One Comment

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