Flexible geothermal power approach combines clean energy with a built-in ‘battery’

Written by
Colton Poore, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
Feb. 21, 2024

Many consider geothermal to be an around-the-clock clean energy resource, but according to a Princeton-led study in collaboration with startup Fervo Energy, operating new geothermal plants flexibly could provide the best value for the grid.

By leveraging the inherent energy storage properties of an emerging technology known as enhanced geothermal, the research team found that flexible geothermal power combined with cost declines in drilling technology could lead to over 100 gigawatts’ worth of geothermal projects in the western U.S. — a capacity greater than that of the existing U.S. nuclear fleet. Such an innovation would transform geothermal energy from its niche status on the grid today into a major component of a decarbonized future. The researchers published their analysis January 15 in Nature Energy.

“People generally think of geothermal as this always-on, baseload energy source, but we’ve shown that there’s a lot of extra value to be had in operating these plants in a different way,” said research leader Jesse Jenkins, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

By operating enhanced geothermal power plants flexibly — using the inherent energy storage capabilities offered by enhanced geothermal reservoirs to generate more or less energy as needed — the team found that the value of geothermal energy dramatically increased because it could complement and compensate for intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind.

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