Geothermal today provides only 0.4% of the world’s energy, but it could potentially provide up to 50% of the world’s energy by 2050, according to Carlos Araque, co-founder and CEO of Quaise Energy, who made this prediction at the SOSV Climate Tech Summit 2022. last week during a panel discussion entitled “Is it time for geothermal energy? »
The profound impact of geothermal energy
Quaise is developing a drilling technique that was pioneered at MIT to reach hot rock about two to 12 miles below the Earth’s surface. Araque was joined by Kathy Hannun, co-founder and president of US residential geothermal energy company Dandelion Energy. The Dandelion process uses established technology that does not require such deep drilling.
Araque and Hannun went on to outline not only the biggest obstacles to expanding their business for the world, but also the other geothermal problems they “itch for people to solve,” according to moderator Candice Ammori, founder of The Climate Vine, which advises climate tech startups.
However, the two first described why geothermal energy is so potentially impactful. In addition to being clean and global, geothermal energy provides a basic source of energy available 24/7. It’s also “the most powerful and abundant renewable energy on Earth,” Araque said, “far more than wind, solar, nuclear and all fossil fuels combined.”
Additionally, Araque said, it is important to weigh an energy source against its impact on externalities such as the environment, land use, and mineral use:
When you look at the [problem] from this goal – the amount of land use per unit of energy you produce, the amount of materials needed per unit of energy, and the amount of carbon dioxide you produce per unit of energy – you start to realize that geothermal energy is far ahead of any other.
Obstacles and solutions
However, fully exploiting the resource will require a lot of capital and time. Araque continues:
It is very difficult to achieve anything in our space with a million dollars or even 10 million dollars.
You need to start playing at the $100 million level or even the $1 billion level. This is what it costs to get [deep geothermal] developed and deployed at the portfolio level.
Additionally, the Quaise technology involved in deep drilling has been demonstrated in the laboratory but not yet in the field. And it will take time.
However, Araque said that by the end of the decade, Quaise aims to create electricity from a coal or gas-fired power plant that has been converted to geothermal:
You are feeding geothermal steam instead of steam from a fossil fuel boiler. This in one stroke decarbonizes the power plant, and you can repeat this 10,000 times with other power plants.
The key to making deep geothermal energy a reality? “You take advantage of the oil and gas industry,” said Araque, who comes from fossil fuels himself. “I see them as a ready-made workforce, supply chain and regulatory framework that can take this to the world at the scale required.”
Hannun noted that for Dandelion, simplifying complexity will be key to reducing the costs associated with using geothermal energy for heating and cooling residential homes:
It’s difficult to advance our building stock and change all the buildings that already exist [to geothermal because] they’re all slightly different and there’s a lot of complexity to deal with. So we focus a lot on geothermal manufacturing [heat pumps] as easy to enter homes as installing a furnace or air conditioner.
Potential for entrepreneurs
Ammori ended the session by asking Hannun and Araque about the remaining geothermal challenges that other entrepreneurs could take on. Both agreed that better imaging systems for seeing underground are important. For deep geothermal, Araque said there is a need for electronics that can withstand the high temperatures associated with the resource. Hannun noted that anything related to weatherizing homes will help the geothermal heating and cooling industry.
She also pointed out that for her industry and that of Araque:
I would encourage entrepreneurs to not just look at the central core technology, but also the enabling technologies, products or companies around permits, licenses and transmission. There are [many] things in the ecosystem that need to happen to allow scale.
Araque concluded by noting that the energy transition itself is an unsolved problem:
Don’t think for a second that it’s just about scaling up what we have. There is plenty of room for innovation. This is the biggest challenge for many generations, not just ours, and we need all the human capital on the problem.
Read more: 10 questions: Geothermal energy with Kathy Hannun, founder of Dandelion Energy
Photo: Gretar Ívarsson, geologist at Nesjavellir/edited by Fir0002/Public domain
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