Enhanced Geothermal


Enhanced Geothermal

Most places do not have that right combination of an accessible large reservoir of underground heat. Instead, reservoirs are more dispersed, in geologic formations with less permeability (this naturally inhibits the flow of hot fluid towards the surface). Engineers have discovered how to alter the subsurface to create man-made reservoirs of hot water that could be tapped to produce electricity, in either a flash steam or (with higher potential) a binary steam technology configuration. The process of engineering a geothermal reservoir underground is known as “enhanced geothermal systems” or EGS. As the resource map in Figure 2 shows, EGS could be done in a lot more places than conventional geothermal. Hundreds of thousands of gigawatts of power, basically enough to run the United States several times over, could potentially be harnessed through EGS.

Required Video/Reading:

The US Department of Energy has a nice animation outlining how EGS works: How an Enhanced Geothermal System Works. Also, check out the interactive image of the EGS on the same page to gain a deeper understanding. Note: This animation requires Flash. If you don't have Flash installed, click the link to the Text Version of the animation.

The basic idea behind EGS is to fracture hot rocks deep within the earth to create channels or networks through which water could flow. When water is injected into these networks, the heat from the rocks boils the water directly, or the now-hot water is transported to the surface where it is used to boil a working fluid, much like a binary steam plant. Fracturing of the rock occurs via “hydraulic fracturing,” under which water is injected into the rock formation at high pressures, causing the rock to fracture. This is actually very similar to the way that natural gas and oil is being extracted from shale. So we can “frack” for geothermal in much the same way that we frack for oil and gas.