Fervo Wants To Harness The Enormous Potential Of Geothermal Energy To Power The Planet

Online Certificate Courses Fervo wants to harness the enormous potential of geothermal energy to power the planet. 

Fervo wants to harness the enormous potential of geothermal energy to power the planet

Exploiting the geothermal energy stored beneath the Earth's surface to generate renewable energy is one of the new visions for the future that has piqued the interest of environmentalists and oil and gas engineers alike.

That is because it is a method of generating electricity that does not rely on greenhouse gas-emitting hydrocarbons and because it uses the same skills and expertise that the oil and gas industry has spent years honing and refining.

At least that is what drew Tim Latimer, a former completion engineer (it is not what it sounds like), to the industry and to the launch of Fervo Energy, a Houston-based geothermal technology developer that has received funding from none other than Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures (that fund... is so busy) and Jeff Skoll's Capricorn Investment Group.

Fervo intends to use the new $28 million cash infusion to accelerate the development of its projects, which Latimer stated will “add hundreds of megawatts of power over the next few years.”

Latimer first became aware of the environmental impact of power generation as a child growing up in a near the Sandy Creek coal power plant, one of the country's last coal-fired power plants.

As is the case with many Texas children, Latimer grew up in an oil family and worked in the gas industry before realizing that the world was shifting to renewable energy and that the oil industry — along with his friends and family — could be left high and dry.

This is one of the reasons he began working on Fervo, the entrepreneur explained.

"What's most critical, from my perspective as someone who began his career in the oil and gas industry, is providing opportunities for those involved in the fossil fuel energy transition to work in the clean energy future," Latimer said. 

When the Biden administration discusses creating jobs in the hydrocarbon industry as part of the energy transition, they are referring to precisely this.

And because geothermal energy is no longer geographically constrained, there are many abundant resources to tap dependent on geological services work, Latimer explained (late last year, Vox published an excellent overview of the technology's history and potential).

“A significant portion of the world's population actually lives near geothermal resources,” Latimer explained. “[There are] 25 countries that have installed and are producing geothermal energy today, and another 25 where geothermal is expected to grow.”

 

Geothermal Energy Production

Geothermal energy production has a long history in the Western United States and parts of Africa. Naturally occurring steam jets pouring from the earth have long been recognized as indicators of abundant geothermal resources, Latimer said.

“Fervo's technology enables the development of a new class of geothermal resource capable of large-scale deployment. Fervo's geothermal systems employ novel techniques such as horizontal drilling, distributed fiber optic sensing, and advanced computational modeling to produce more repeatable and cost-effective geothermal energy,” Latimer wrote in an email. “Fervo's technology, combined with the latest advancements in Organic Rankine Cycle generation systems, enables the company to provide flexible, carbon-free electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Fervo has received funding from the DOE's Geothermal Technology Office and ARPA-E to collaborate with partners such as Schlumberger, Rice University, and the Berkeley Lab.

The combination of new and legacy technology enables the company to potentially develop new projects across vast geographies.

Other companies are also exploring geothermal energy as a means of advancing their renewable energy development business. These include startups such as Eavor, backed by energy industry heavyweights such as bp Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource, and Vickers Venture Partners, as well as other players such as GreenFire Energy and Sage Geosystems.

The demand for geothermal projects is soaring, creating enormous opportunities for startups to solve the cost issue associated with geothermal development. As Latimer noted, from 2016 to 2019, the industry signed only one major geothermal contract, but in 2020, the industry signed ten new major power purchase agreements.

Cost remains a consideration for all of these endeavors. According to Latimer, geothermal contracts are being signed for between $65 and $75 per megawatt. Solar plants, by comparison, now cost between $35 and $55 per megawatt, as The Verge reported last year.

However, Latimer stated that geothermal energy's stability and predictability made the cost differential acceptable for utilities and businesses that require the assurance of uninterrupted power supplies. Latimer is intimately familiar with the issue as a current Houston resident, having been without power for five days during this year's winter freeze.

Indeed, geothermal's ability to provide clean energy on demand makes it an extremely appealing option. According to a recent Department of Energy study, geothermal energy could meet up to 16% of the United States' electricity demand, and other estimates place geothermal energy at nearly 20% of a fully decarbonized grid.

“We have long believed in geothermal energy but have waited for the right technology and team to drive innovation in the sector,” Capricorn Investment Group's Ion Yadigaroglu said in a statement. “Fervo's technological capabilities and partnerships with leading research organizations position the company as the undisputed leader in the new wave of geothermal.”

 

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