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Geothermal Has a Role in Utah's Clean-Energy Plan


Friday, September 24, 2021   

SALT LAKE CITY -- A researcher at the University of Utah said plans for generating renewable energy should include a power source right under our feet.

Whether by plan or accident of geology, Utah has some of the highest potential in the nation for generating geothermal energy. Across the state, super-heated geothermal water is already being used to make electricity, as well as for spas, space heating, agriculture and aquaculture.

Joseph Moore, principal investigator for the Utah Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (Utah FORGE) at the University of Utah Energy and Geoscience Institute, said if you can dig a deep enough hole, you can capture heat from the earth's mantle to make sustainable, reliable power.

"The goal is to be able to generate electricity or direct use anywhere in the world," Moore explained. "We can drill deep enough, the heat's there; it's just extracting that heat. We put the hot water, after it's been used, back in the ground - so, it is renewable."

Utah FORGE is a Department of Energy (DOE) funded project tasked with developing the technologies and tools needed for Enhanced Geothermal System reservoirs.

Moore said Utah now has three geothermal power plants that generate a combined 72 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply about 72,000 homes.

He pointed out once fully developed, geothermal has virtually limitless potential across the region.

"Right now, we find the hottest temperatures at the shallowest depths in the West, so that's Utah, Nevada, California," Moore outlined. "A little bit to the north - Idaho, Oregon. A little bit to the south - New Mexico, Wyoming."

He cautioned natural geothermal resources are not currently sufficient to reach the DOE's 2050 goal, but he predicts once the technology being developed in Utah matures, it could potentially generate enough power to run the entire country.

Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy, agreed geothermal power could become a major addition in the fight to counter climate change. She added it does not cost much, in terms of cents per kilowatt-hour.

"It is affordable," Wrights stressed. "It's less than 10 cents, and probably around 8. And it's a pollution-free, carbon-free resource that provides energy all day and all night."

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