Google Funded Geothermal Map Reveals Great Potential

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In the recently completed, comprehensive Geothermal Map of North America, a less common renewable energy resource shows capabilities of producing 10 ti...

In the recently completed, comprehensive Geothermal Map of North America, a less common renewable energy resource shows capabilities of producing 10 times the energy of coal in the U.S. After a 3-year project, funded by Google.org, SMU Geothermal Laboratory compiled tens of thousands of the newest thermal data points to come up with a realistic perspective of geothermal energy potential for the U.S.

Using about twice as many data sites as the last official map from Blackwell and Richards in 2004, the updated version is much more detailed at a regional level. Larger variations can be seen in temperatures, highlighting more detail for potential power sites. With newer technologies and drilling methods, the map reveals the existence of geothermal potential in places previously considered unsuitable. West Virginia, for example, was revealed to harness enough to compete with coal, its primary power supply.

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“This assessment of geothermal potential will only improve with time,” said Dr. David Blackwell, lead researcher of the project, according to SMU's news archive yesterday. “Our study assumes that we tap only a small fraction of the available stored heat in the Earth’s crust, and our capabilities to capture that heat are expected to grow substantially as we improve upon the energy conversion and exploitation factors through technological advances and improved techniques.”

The study revealed that some conditions in the eastern parts of the US are actually hotter than some in the West. The study considered the practicality of current technology of drilling to imply the realistic limitations of energy extraction. The end result is still an enormous potential for a cleaner form of energy, capable of outpacing the traditional use of coal.

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