Startup Proves Commercial Geothermal Tech

Jennifer Leakos
Fervor Energy drilling rig
Courtesy of Fervor Energy

Geothermal energy is having a moment as geothermal startup Fervor Energy announced it made a breakthrough in this space. The company successfully ran a 30-day test of its pilot plant in Nevada using technology adapted from the oil and gas industry – the first company to do so. The plant produced 3.5 megawatts of electricity, enough power to supply approximately 2,300 homes.

Background: Geothermal energy systems use heat from the earth to generate either heat or power. For as long as people have been enjoying hot springs (although the sulfur smell can ruin the vibe), humans have been tapping into the potential of geothermal.

The commercial use of geothermal began in the 20th century, and while the use for heating is currently more widespread, power generation is where many predict the future of geothermal to be. 

  • To generate electricity, water is sent underground to be heated by the Earth which is then used to rotate turbines back at the surface.

In contrast to intermittent renewable energy sources like solar and wind, it can be used as a baseload power source. Yet only 0.4% of the US grid is powered by geothermal.

What’s the hurdle? Just like our grocery bills nowadays, it’s too expensive, especially compared to solar and wind. And many of the prime reservoirs have been depleted in the US.

Enter enhanced geothermal systems (EGS).

Researchers and startups are looking to tap into less ideal reservoirs by injecting fluid into them that can create fractures and heat up the fluid so that it can be sent back up to the surface to generate electricity. 

  • If this sounds like déjà vu, that’s because the concept is similar to shale gas hydraulic fracturing and Fervo is applying the same technology.

And just as Google has been a lifesaver for most of us, the technology giant has also thrown Fervo a lifeline by partnering with the start-up in 2021 to advance EGS.

Zoom out: Geothermal is expected to grow as it is an option for renewable electricity since it can provide a stable power supply, but it still has a way to go before it will reach the scale of other renewable sources.