The Salt Lake Tribune
A groundbreaking renewable energy project is taking place near the small town of Milford, Utah, that could change the energy landscape of America forever.
With funding from the Department of Energy, researchers at Utah’s Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) are using state-of-the-art technology to tap into underground heat, known as geothermal energy, to generate electricity. If the technology works, it can be scaled up to provide affordable, reliable, carbon-free energy to millions of homes nationwide.
That would be no small feat. Only one-sixth of the country’s electricity generation currently comes from renewable sources — a far cry from the fully renewable energy future many envision. Roughly 12% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from heating and cooling buildings. Wind and solar power, which many cities are embracing, are critical to reducing fossil fuel emissions but can be unreliable when there’s no sunlight or wind. Unlike other renewables, geothermal can provide around-the-clock baseload power and meet our energy needs for millions of years to come.
Geothermal energy can be found virtually anywhere. The Earth’s core, which is about as hot as the surface of the sun, provides heat that emanates outwards, warming underground rocks and water. This heat can be captured from sources such as hot springs and geysers. In fact, humans have been using the heat from hot springs to bathe and cook for thousands of years. And today, with more sophisticated technology, energy from underground reservoirs of hot brine is used for district heating, greenhouses and fisheries.
There are a few different ways to access this heat. In Boise, Idaho, where the country’s first-ever geothermal district heating system was established, water from an aquifer beneath the city runs through heat-exchange systems to warm the buildings it serves. After the heat is extracted, the cooled water is re-injected into the ground. Thanks to easily accessible hot water below the surface, the city heats more than 90 buildings in its downtown area without emitting greenhouse gases, operating the largest direct-use geothermal system in the country.