The Energy Department on January 30 announced $3 million to spur geothermal energy development using “play fairway” analysis. This technique identifies prospective geothermal resources in areas with no obvious surface expression by mapping the most favorable intersections of heat, permeability, and fluid. While commonly used in oil and gas exploration, play fairway analysis is not yet widely used in the geothermal industry. By improving success rates for exploration drilling, this data-mapping tool could help attract investment in geothermal energy projects and significantly lower the costs of geothermal energy.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 30 gigawatts of undiscovered hydrothermal energy potential exist untapped beneath the Earth’s surface—nearly 10 times the current installed capacity of geothermal energy in the United States. One of the keys to tapping this clean resource is reducing the cost and risk of locating it. By quantifying and reducing the risk of exploratory drilling, play fairway analysis projects could unlock significant geothermal energy resources and accelerate industry-wide adoption of this tool.
The Energy Department will support one-year collaborative research and development projects, especially in new, unexplored areas, that adapt play fairway analysis to geothermal exploration. These projects will focus on using existing geologic and geophysical data to develop maps that identify areas with a higher probability of containing a geothermal resource. The research seeks to develop a methodology for exploration of geothermal resources in a particular region, or play. See the Energy Department press release.
Image info: Geothermal power plant in the Imperial Valley, California.