Google is investing more than $10 million in three companies pursuing technologies to develop geothermal energy systems, the company said today. The effort is part of Google's RE-C initiative to find renewable energy solutions that are cheaper than coal.
Google.org will invest in three groups working in Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology, which it said "expands the potential of traditional geothermal energy by orders of magnitude." An explanation:
The traditional geothermal approach relies on finding naturally occurring pockets of steam or hot water. The EGS process, by comparison, replicates these conditions by fracturing hot rock, circulating water through the system, and using the resulting steam to produce electricity in a conventional turbine.
Google has previously made investments in "utility scale" solar thermal power as well as high-altitude wind energy. While Google hasn't said how it might leverage these investments if they succeed, the company says it intends to shift a large part of its data center power usage away from coal and towards green power. Investing in cost-effective approaches to renewable energy could position Google to operate greener data centers - if it can make those renewable technologies scale to the huge power loads used by its data centers.
Google's investments with EGS partners thus far include:
- AltaRock Energy will get $6.25 million investment to develop innovative technologies to achieve significant cost reductions and improved performance in EGS projects.
- Potter Drilling will receive $4 million investment in two tranches, to develop new approaches to lower the cost and expand the range of deep hard rock drilling, a critical element large-scale deployment of EGS.
- Southern Methodist University's Geothermal Laboratory will get a $489,521 grant to improve understanding of the size and distribution of geothermal energy resources and to update geothermal mapping of North America.
Google said geothermal energy represents a tremendous opportunity. "The people we're funding today have a real shot at lowering the cost of EGS, and bringing us closer to our goal of Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal," said Dr. Larry Brilliant, executive director of Google.org.
"EGS could be the 'killer app' of the energy world. It has the potential to deliver vast quantities of power 24/7 and be captured nearly anywhere on the planet. And it would be a perfect complement to intermittent sources like solar and wind," said Dan Reicher, Director of Climate and Energy Initiatives for Google.org. "EGS is critical to the clean electricity revolution we need to solve the climate crisis, but EGS hasn't received the attention it merits. That's why we're pressing for expanded support from government and increased investment from the private sector. We're big believers in EGS and we're looking for more opportunities."
If Google succeeds, it would provide data center operators a geothermal power alternative to locating in Iceland, which has been touting its natural geothermal power as ideal for data centers.