Investigating ultra high-enthalpy geothermal systems: a collaborative initiative to promote scientific opportunities
Scientists, engineers, and policy makers gathered at a workshop in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California in October 2013 to discuss the science and technology involved in developing high-enthalpy geothermal fields. A typical high-enthalpy geothermal well between 2000 and 3000 m deep produces a mixture of hot water and steam at 200–300 °C that can be used to generate about 5–10 MWe of electric power. The theme of the workshop was to explore the feasibility and economic potential of increasing the power output of geothermal wells by an order of magnitude by drilling deeper to reach much higher pressures and temperatures. Development of higher enthalpy geothermal systems for power production has obvious advantages; specifically higher temperatures yield higher power outputs per well so that fewer wells are needed, leading to smaller environmental footprints for a given size of power plant. Plans for resource assessment and drilling in such higher enthalpy areas are already underway in Iceland, New Zealand, and Japan. There is considerable potential for similar developments in other countries that already have a large production of electricity from geothermal steam, such as Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia, Italy, and the USA.
However drilling deeper involves technical and economic challenges. One approach to mitigating the cost issue is to form a consortium of industry, government and academia to share the costs and broaden the scope of investigation. An excellent example of such collaboration is the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), which is investigating the economic feasibility of producing electricity from supercritical geothermal reservoirs, and this approach could serve as model for future developments elsewhere. A planning committee was formed to explore creating a similar initiative in the USA.