Houston-based startup Fervo Energy has made a significant breakthrough in the renewable energy sector with its enhanced geothermal system (EGS). The company has successfully demonstrated the commercial viability of its EGS pilot, Project Red, marking a major stride towards dependable, carbon-free energy sources. This achievement expands the range of sites that can be tapped for geothermal energy, a goal that the renewable energy industry has been working towards since the 1970s. Fervo Energy’s successful demonstration is the first instance of EGS being implemented on a commercial scale. The company recently completed a full-scale, 30-day well test at its Project Red site in northern Nevada, generating 3.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power approximately 2,625 homes simultaneously. Project Red is set to connect to the grid later this year, supplying power to Google’s data centers and infrastructure throughout Nevada.
In 2021, Google and Fervo Energy signed the world’s first corporate agreement to develop a next-generation geothermal power project. This partnership is part of Google’s commitment to using 100% carbon-free energy 24/7 by 2030. The aim is to provide an “always-on” carbon-free resource that can reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Traditional geothermal energy already provides carbon-free baseload energy to some power grids, but its limited availability and high costs hinder its widespread use. The new approach, utilizing advanced drilling, AI, fiber-optic sensing, and analytics techniques, aims to unlock a new class of resource. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that geothermal energy could provide up to 120 GW of generation capacity in the U.S. by 2050. As part of their agreement, Google is partnering with Fervo to develop AI and machine learning technologies to enhance the productivity of next-generation geothermal and make it more responsive to demand.
The project brings Google’s data centers in Nevada closer to round-the-clock clean energy and serves as a proof-of-concept for how next-generation geothermal could replace carbon-emitting power sources worldwide. Geothermal energy, often referred to as the “heat beneath our feet,” currently provides 3.7 gigawatts of electricity in the United States. However, this is just a fraction of its untapped potential. Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) could unlock these resources and put new, clean, and dispatchable electricity on the grid. EGS involves the creation of man-made reservoirs to facilitate the flow of hot water to the surface for electricity production. The technical potential of EGS in the United States alone is sufficient to meet the world’s electricity needs. Even capturing a small fraction of this resource through commercial-scale deployment could affordably power over 40 million American homes and businesses. Investments in EGS will also create opportunities for geothermal heating and cooling solutions nationwide.
The geothermal industry has the potential to become a powerhouse of U.S. economic growth, particularly benefiting rural communities. Geothermal jobs, especially in construction, which currently makes up 57% of the geothermal workforce, cannot be outsourced. Additionally, the similarities between the geothermal and oil and gas industries present an opportunity to transition a skilled workforce. Expanding geothermal energy can also help communities negatively impacted by fossil fuel use and production shift to clean energy. Achieving the Enhanced Geothermal Shot, a target to reduce the cost of EGS by 90% to $45 per megawatt hour by 2035, will contribute to President Biden’s goals of 100% carbon-pollution-free electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions across the U.S. economy by 2050. The Energy Department estimates that EGS has the potential to power over 65 million American homes. The results from Project Red align with the DOE’s Enhanced Geothermal Earthshot and demonstrate that geothermal energy could supply over 20% of U.S. power needs while complementing other renewable energy sources to achieve a fully decarbonized grid.
Fervo Energy’s breakthrough in the enhanced geothermal system is a significant step towards a sustainable future. The successful demonstration of EGS proves that geothermal energy is not just a resource for the future but a viable solution for today’s energy needs, capable of powering millions of homes and businesses.