The NREL geothermal team leverages its capabilities in several different areas to enhance the visibility of geothermal technologies. These areas include low-temperature resources; enhanced geothermal systems; strategic planning, analysis, and modeling; and project assessment.
Low-Temperature Geothermal Resources
NREL works to develop and deploy innovative new technologies that will help the geothermal community achieve widespread adoption of under-utilized low-temperature resources for electricity generation.
NREL's expertise and experience in low-temperature geothermal technologies drives its lead role in providing test plans and analysis for the low-temperature electrical power generation industry, helping to identify and overcome barriers to increased use. NREL and its geothermal team bring its capabilities to bear in two primary areas:
- Field data collection and evaluation for development and demonstration of low-temperature power systems. These capabilities specifically include the collecting and consolidating low-temperature geothermal resource data to provide insight into resource characteristics, levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) cost estimates, power plant efficiency, low-temperature geothermal technical barriers, and more.
- Thermal system and working fluid research for the development of advanced heat transfer fluids necessary for future low-temperature geothermal systems. NREL's Thermal Storage Materials Laboratory provides the capability to identify and evaluate fluids with thermal stabilities that can meet the operating demands of these advanced low-temperature power systems.
Enhanced Geothermal Systems
Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) are engineered reservoirs that can provide geothermal power from geothermal resources that were once considered unrecoverable due to lack of water, location, or rock type. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that potentially 500,000 megawatts of EGS resource is available in the western United States—about half of the current installed electric power generating capacity in the United States.
NRELs expertise in geothermal research and development, techno-economic modeling, data management and communications, and site operations is contributing to the advancement and commercial-scale deployment of EGS.
Strategic Planning, Analysis, and Modeling
NREL's geothermal systems analysis team increases the understanding of current and future interactions and roles of energy policies, markets, resources, technology systems and components, environmental impacts, and infrastructure related to geothermal resources. The team:
- Performs resource analysis
- Develops techno-economic models
- Quantifies environmental impacts through sustainability and technology life-cycle assessments
- Assesses technology supply chains
- Incorporates research and development (R&D) portfolio uncertainty and risk
- Assesses market, financial, and policy impacts
- Incorporates geospatial implications.
Additionally, the NREL geothermal team combines these core capabilities into integrated assessments of energy plans, programs, and portfolios for geothermal technologies to inform decision-makers and to advance geothermal use.
The NREL staff has decades of project management and geoscience experience in areas such as geologic field studies, regional sedimentary basin exploration, prospect generation, reservoir characterization and simulation, drilling and completion operations, and environmental assessment and permitting to encourage the development, validation, and deployment of geothermal technologies.
NREL staff utilizes these skills to provide technical support to the U.S. Department of Energy's Geothermal Technologies Office in assessment and evaluation of research and development projects. NREL also assists private sector and government clients in evaluating the feasibility of novel geothermal applications.