WASHINGTON, DC, October 30, 2009 (ENS) – The Obama administration is financing an expansion of the U.S. geothermal industry, investing $338 million in Recovery Act grant funding to support the exploration and development of new geothermal fields and research into advanced geothermal technologies. In addition, the grants will support the deployment and creative financing approaches for ground source heat pumps to heat and cool buildings.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced Thursday that the grants will be awarded to 123 projects in 39 states, with recipients including private industry, universities, tribal entities, local governments, and the Department of Energy’s national laboratories.

The grants will be matched with an additional $353 million in private and non-federal cost-share funds.

“The United States is blessed with vast geothermal energy resources, which hold enormous potential to heat our homes and power our economy,” said Secretary Chu.

“These investments in America’s technological innovation will allow us to capture more of this clean, carbon free energy at a lower cost than ever before. We will create thousands of jobs, boost our economy and help to jumpstart the geothermal industry across the United States.”

Collectively, these projects will represent an expansion of the U.S. geothermal industry and will create or save thousands of jobs in drilling, exploration, construction, and operation of geothermal power facilities and manufacturing of ground source heat pump equipment, Chu says.

Geothermal energy is generated in the Earth’s core. Temperatures hotter than the Sun’s surface are continuously produced inside the Earth by the slow decay of radioactive particles, a process that happens in all rocks. We can recover this heat as steam or hot water and use it to heat buildings or generate electricity.

The Energy Department says its Geothermal Technologies Program “works in partnership with U.S. industry to establish geothermal energy as an economically competitive contributor to the U.S. energy supply.”

Most, but not all, of the grants announced Thursday will go to U.S. companies. Nevada Geothermal Power Inc., which won two of the grants, is a publicly traded renewable energy development company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

At a site in Oregon, Nevada Geothermal will test a new drilling technique with a lower environmental impact that standard techniques and create a method to model the movement of fluid in the reservoir. At a site in Nevada, NGP will test a new technique to locate hidden geothermal reservoirs.

Another Vancouver company, Sierra Geothermal, won two grants to develop geothermal resources in Esmeralda County, Nevada, 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The Silver Peak property has two 55 kV transmission lines connecting to the Nevada and California power grids and a substation located on the lease itself. The Alum geothermal power project has been rated with a 90 percent probability of generating 73 megawatts of geothermal power.

The projects selected for negotiation of awards fall in six categories:

  1. Innovative Exploration and Drilling Projects (up to $98.1 million): Twenty-four projects have been selected focusing on the development of new geothermal fields using innovative sensing, exploration, and well-drilling technologies.
  2. Coproduced, Geopressured, and Low Temperature Projects (up to $20.7 million): Eleven projects have been selected for the development of new low-temperature geothermal fields, a vast but currently untapped set of geothermal resources. This includes geothermal heat found in the hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells around the United States, where up to ten barrels of hot water are produced for every barrel of oil.
  3. Enhanced Geothermal Systems Demonstrations (up to $51.4 million): Three projects have been selected for the exploration, drilling and development of enhanced geothermal systems to validate power production from deep hot rock resources using innovative technologies and approaches.
  4. Enhanced Geothermal Systems Components Research and Development/Analysis (up to $81.5 million): Forty-five projects have been selected to focus on research and development of new technologies to find and drill into deep hot rock formations, stimulate enhanced geothermal reservoirs, and convert the heat to power.
  5. Geothermal Data Development, Collection and Maintenance (up to $24.6 million): Three projects have been selected for the population of a comprehensive nationwide geothermal resource database to help identify and assess new fields.
  6. Ground Source Heat Pump Demonstrations (up to $61.9 million): Thirty-seven projects have been selected to demonstrate the deployment of ground source heat pumps for heating and cooling of a variety of buildings for a variety of customer types, including academic institutions, local governments, and commercial buildings.

These grants are aimed at reducing the upfront risk associated with geothermal development through innovative exploration and drilling projects and data development and collection. Click here to view the project selections.

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