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The NREL geothermal team is involved in various projects to help accelerate the development and deployment of clean, renewable geothermal technologies, including low-temperature resources; enhanced geothermal systems; strategic planning, analysis, and modeling; and project assessment.

Low-Temperature Geothermal Resources

NREL supports the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) through various collaborations that evaluate the levelized cost of electricity and operational data for low-temperature geothermal resources. In August 2010, NREL and the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center (RMOTC) in Casper, Wyoming, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on the testing and development of low-temperature technologies.

NREL's team is tracking operational data from two 280 kilowatt Organic Rankine Cycle units at RMOTC's Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3 (Teapot Dome Oil Field) site to identify power output improvements through the year and power output improvements in warm climates. The data will help NREL and RMOTC understand the efficiencies, barriers, and operating issues of current technology and will help GTP reach the goal of developing and demonstrating low-temperature technologies to reduce costs to $0.08 per kilowatt hour by 2016.

NREL has modeled and evaluated commercially available hybrid cooling systems that can be retrofitted to one of the RMOTC units to mitigate the decrease in net power output. During FY12 NREL will be relocating the two geothermal units at RMTOC to commercial sites to demonstrate the technology in a commercial operating environment.

Direct-Use Applications

Low-temperature geothermal resources exist throughout the United States giving way to tremendous potential for new direct-use applications.

On March 18, 2015, The Colorado Collaboration for Subsurface Research in Geothermal Energy (Colorado SURGE) hosted a free workshop on Advances in Geothermal Direct Energy Use. The workshop was held on the campus of Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.

The objectives of the workshop were to capture insights on the state of geothermal direct use and the challenges that constrain the pace of direct-use deployment, and to identify the overlay of geothermal resource and end-user demand. The agenda, presentations, and workshop summary can be accessed on the Geothermal Technologies Office website.

Colorado SURGE is a Collaboration of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Colorado School of Mines.

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Enhanced Geothermal Systems

The development of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) into a commercially-viable technology is critical for enabling geothermal energy to become a major contributor to electrical power generation at a national scale. NREL supports DOE's GTO in EGS research and development and demonstration projects that facilitate technology validation and deployment, reduce cost, and improve performance.

Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy

The DOE GTO is in the process of designating a government-operated test site dedicated to the advancement of EGS technologies. NREL is a partner in the Snake River Geothermal Consortium (SRGC), one of five teams currently competing to host and operate the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE). SRGC is led by the Idaho National Laboratory and includes members from national laboratories, universities, industry, and state and federal agencies. NREL staff members bring expertise in geology, data management and communications, site operations, and R&D management to the SRGC team.

Watch a video to learn more on EGS, FORGE, and the proposed Snake River Plain site.

Geothermal Prospector Tool

NREL developed the Geothermal Prospector, a web-based GIS application, provides an excellent data resource for visual exploration of geothermal resources and supports the exploration/development community with tools and datasets for exploration gap analysis and Enhanced Geothermal Systems planning and analysis.

Geothermal power is a clean, sustainable, renewable energy. Its source is heat generated by the Earth's core. It can provide continuous baseload electricity or be flexible enough to support the needs of intermittent renewable energy resources such as wind and solar. Learn more about geothermal energy.

Our world-class research staff works in in partnership with industry, academia, and other research laboratories to research, develop, and validate innovative and cost-competitive technologies to advance the use of geothermal energy as a clean, renewable, domestic power source for the United States.

The GeoVision Study will identify the potential for geothermal energy to be a key part of national energy and climate change priorities and conduct a credible analysis of potential geothermal growth scenarios for 2020, 2030 and 2050 across multiple market sectors.

NREL's work is largely supported by the U.S. Department's Geothermal Technologies Office.

Strategic Planning, Analysis, and Modeling

NREL's geothermal analysis team provides support to GTO by conducting integrated analysis on geothermal resources, including market and policy analysis, modeling tools, risk assessments, supply curve development, and transmission analysis. In addition to the projects listed below, the geothermal analysis team is also working on a web-ready permitting checklist for geothermal developers, geothermal power plant case studies, and technical reports on water use, institutional barriers, and more.

Market and Policy Analysis

NREL investigates, researches, and analyzes the latest information available to help reduce confusion and provide credible, objective answers to decision makers, such as utility regulators, policymakers, and regional developers interested in investments and policies that support new, geothermal projects.

The NREL geothermal team is also conducting feed-in tariff analysis and adding a geothermal aspect to current renewable energy finance tracking initiatives to identify trends, barriers, and preferences in geothermal project financing.


The NREL team develops and supports various geothermal analysis modeling tools. Currently, the team is working to broaden the development of geothermal applications in Web-based interactive tools by incorporating more geothermal resource data, such as temperature at depths and low-temperature modeling. The team plans to modify tools to estimate the costs of development for a given location and visualize other factors at a site that can affect geothermal development potential, such as land ownership, transmission line proximity, and water resources.

The NREL team is also working to develop a geothermal power generation component to the Jobs and Economic Development Model (JEDI) to estimate job development at the state level and nationwide. These results will help researchers, policy makers, investors, developers, energy advocates, and government officials understand the potential job creation benefits and economic impacts associated with geothermal power projects. 

Project Assessment

The NREL staff has extensive experience in project management in geologic field studies, regional sedimentary basin exploration, prospect generation, reservoir characterization and simulation, drilling and completion operations, and environmental assessment and permitting.

The staff employs these skills to encourage the development, validation, and deployment of geothermal technologies by providing technical support to the DOE GTO in assessment and evaluation of research and development projects, as well as assisting private sector and government clients in evaluating the feasibility of innovative new geothermal applications.

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