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Mission: to characterize and assess geothermal energy resources in the United States and to work with the Department of Energy and other partners to advance the technologies applied to discover, characterize, and utilize those resources.
Geothermal energy is a significant source of renewable electric power in the western United States and, with advances in exploration and development technologies, a potential source of a large fraction of baseload electric power for the entire country. The USGS Geothermal Resource Investigations Project is focused on advancing geothermal research through a better understanding of geothermal resources and the impacts of geothermal development. This is achieved by applying a wide range of research methods to characterize resource occurrences, perform monitoring, and develop resource assessments. The project team works closely with a number of external collaborators from federal and state agencies, academia and industry on projects throughout the US and internationally (provide link to map of field study areas).
Based on current projections, the United States faces the need to increase its electrical power generating capacity by approximately 300,000 Megawatts-electrical (MWe) over the next 20 years. A critical question for future energy planning is the extent to which geothermal resources can contribute to this increasing demand for electricity. Geothermal energy constitutes one of the nation’s largest sources of renewable and environmentally benign electric power, yet the installed capacity of approximately 3000 MWe falls short of the estimated resources.
The USGS 2008 National geothermal resource assessment (provide link to 2008 assessment) estimated potential power production capacity from identified and undiscovered conventional geothermal resources at approximately 40,000 MWe. In addition, a provisional evaluation of the potential from Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) was estimated to be approximately 518,000 MWe. This indicates that substantial geothermal resources are available to contribute to the nation’s electric power mix.
Still, significant questions remain regarding the nature and extent of undiscovered conventional geothermal resources as well as the viability of EGS as a new technology for producing geothermal electric power. This project is focused on addressing these issues as well as producing comprehensive databases of geothermal information compiled in the course of the assessment work, expanding the scope of the 2008 assessment to lower temperatures and other unconventional geothermal resource types, and conducting further research into the nature of geothermal resources in order to develop improved methodologies for future assessments.
The project addresses key issues related to geothermal resources through a number of activities:
Below are data or web applications associated with this project.
Below are publications associated with this project.
This map shows identified medium and high temperature geothermal systems and relative favorability for additional systems in the western United States.