Google's renewable energy investment pays off, finds 18,890 MW of Geothermal Power

GigaOm reports on Google's striking geothermal gold.

Google Strikes Geothermal Gold in West Virginia

By Jeff St. John Oct. 5, 2010, 4:27pm PDT 1 Comment

Has Google struck geothermal gold in West Virginia? A new report shows that heat underground the state could provide 18,890 megawatts of power using today’s geothermal technology — more than the state’s entire power generation capacity of 16,350 megawatts, most of which comes from coal. Google, which has beeninvesting in next-generation clean powertechnologies, funded the research.

Geothermal makes sense for a data center.

Geothermal, unlike other renewable energy resources, can be easily used for 24/7 baseload power — that is, it doesn’t sag and surge with the sun and the wind, which is a problem with solar panels and wind turbines. Geothermal projects are on the rise, although venture capital and private equity investors haven’t yet shown much interest in the capital-intensive sector. Companies tackling geothermal power range from the startup Vancouver-based Magma Energy, which went public last year, to geothermal giants like Ormat Technologies.

Google also has an internal solar technology project, as well as an energy-trading subsidiary, Google Energy, which bought 114 MW of wind energy via a wind farm in Iowa owned by NextEra Energy Resources. Google is likely shopping for more clean power to provide its data centers’ vast energy needs and help it with its pledge to go carbon-neutral — could geothermal help with that?

Here are more technical details.

6. Conclusions

This reconnaissance investigation of the thermal regime of the eastern U.S. has defined a significant thermal anomaly along the Appalachian Mountain trend in West Virginia and demonstrated that temperatures high enough for electrical power generation occur at depths greater than 4 to 5 km in large areas of eastern West Virginia. This finding opens the possibility of geothermal energy production near the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard. Further research is needed to refine estimates of the magnitude and distribution of West Virginia’s geothermal resource and to understand the cause of the high heat flow values. The presence of a large, baseload, carbon neutral, and sustainable energy resource in West Virginia could make an important contribution to enhancing the U.S. energy security and for decreasing CO2 emissions.