Sunday, October 21, 2012

Guide to EGS technology – Is EGS the answer?

EGS refers to „enhanced geothermal system“ technology but before explaining the working principle of this technology I will first introduce you to the current situation in global geothermal energy industry.

First of all, geothermal energy is yet to fulfill its potential as it currently satisfies only around 0.3% of electricity demand worldwide. The studies estimate that that the amount of heat within 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) of Earth's surface contains 50,000 times more energy than all the oil and natural gas resources in the world so the potential is certainly there. 

Witt the proper development in technology geothermal energy could provide as much as 20 percent of world's power by the year 2050. This is still only a small fraction of total geothermal potential but even this percentage would be a stunning achievement given the current global geothermal energy outlook.
The profitability issue is the main reason why geothermal energy isn't more widely used source of energy, and this comes from high upfront costs, mostly connected with geothermal drilling.

Geothermal energy is currently being harnessed in 24 countries of the world, in areas known as „geothermal hot spots“ (at plate boundaries or at places where the crust is thin enough to let the heat through). With the currently used technologies these areas are the only ones that allow profitable exploitation.
Why not exploit geothermal energy in other areas as well? Well, the costs of exploration and drilling in other areas would climb to tens of millions of dollars, and this most certainly wouldn't lead to desired profits that all investors expect.

In order to spread to new areas geothermal industry is in dire need of new, advanced, cost-effective technologies and this is where EGS technology could play significant role.  EGS technology extracts heat from within the Earth's surface by creating a subsurface system. Once this system is created, water is added to it through injection wells. Injected water is heated by contact with the rock and returns to the surface through production wells, as in naturally occurring hydrothermal systems.

Geothermal energy industry hopes that the further advancement in EGS technology will make geothermal energy harnessing profitable for large number of countries, all over the globe.

The current rule to build new geothermal energy projects is rather simple- namely to build these projects only  in areas on the edges of tectonic plates where high temperature geothermal resources are available near the surface so the drilling costs are not too high. EGS certainly has potential to expand geothermal energy projects to new locations, but there is still plenty of work ahead.

One thing is sure though – we cannot ignore the potential of geothermal energy. There are other important geothermal energy benefits such as improved energy security, creation of new jobs, reliability, and more positive environmental impact as compared to sticking with fossil fuels. Geothermal energy also doesn't suffer from intermittency issue like solar and wind does and is available 24-7. 

Hopefully, in years to come, we'll become witnesses to much wider use of geothermal energy resources.