Harnessing geothermal energy stored below the Earth’s surface as a way to generate renewable energy is one of the new visions for the future that has caught the attention of environmentalists and oil and gas engineers.
This is because it is not only a means of producing electricity that does not rely on greenhouse gas emitting hydrocarbons, but because it uses the same skills and expertise as the oil and gas industry has been perfecting and refining it for years.
At least, that’s what attracted former finishing engineer (it’s not what it sounds like) Tim Latimer to the industry and to launch Fervo Energy, the Houston-based geothermal technology developer who has secured funding from none other than Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures. (this fund… is so busy) and former executive of eBay, Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group.
With the new $ 28 million cash in hand, Fervo planning on ramping up its projects which, according to Latimer, “would bring in hundreds of megawatts of electricity over the next few years.”
Latimer had his first exposure to the environmental impact of power generation while growing up in a small town outside of Waco, Texas, near the Sandy Creek coal-fired power plant, one of the last coal-fired power plants to be built in the United States.
Like many children in Texas, Latimer came from an oil family and got his first jobs in the oil and gas industry before realizing the world was going to switch to renewables and the oil industry – with friends and family he knew – could be left high and dry.
This is one of the reasons he started working on Fervo, the entrepreneur said.
“What’s most important, from my perspective, since starting my career in the oil and gas industry, is to provide the people who are part of the energy transition from the fossil fuel side with work in the future of clean energy, ”said Latimer. “I was able to hire subcontractors and support people who were out of work or struggling due to falling oil prices… And I put them to work on our platforms.”
When the Biden administration talks about finding jobs for employees in the oil and gas industry as part of the energy transition, that is exactly what it is talking about.
And geothermal power is no longer so constrained by geography, so there are plenty of abundant resources to tap into and the potential for well-paying jobs in areas that already depend on geological services, Latimer said (at the end last year, Vox posted a good overview of the history and opportunity presented by the technology).
“A large percentage of the world’s population actually lives next to good geothermal resources,” Latimer said. “Today, 25 countries have installed and produced geothermal energy and 25 others where geothermal energy will develop.”
Geothermal power generation actually has a long history in the western United States and parts of Africa where natural geysers and steam jets pouring out of the earth have been clear indicators of good geothermal resources. , Latimer said.
“FervoThis technology opens up a new class of geothermal resources ready for large-scale deployment. FervoGeothermal systems use new techniques, including horizontal drilling, distributed fiber optic sensing and advanced computer modeling, to provide more reproducible and cost effective geothermal electricity, ”Latimer wrote in an email. “FervoThis technology combines with the latest advances in organic Rankine cycle production systems to provide flexible, carbon-free electricity 24/7. ”
Initially developed with a grant from the TomKat Center at Stanford University and a scholarship funded by Activate.org to the Cyclotron Road division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Fervo later secured funding from the Office of Geothermal Technology at DOE and the ‘ARPA-E to continue its work with partners such as Schlumberger, Rice University and the Berkeley Lab.
The combination of new and old technology opens up large geographies for the company to potentially develop new projects.
Other companies are also looking to harness geothermal energy to develop a renewable energy production development activity. These are startups like Eavor, which is backed by energy majors like bp Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource and Vickers Venture Partners; and others, including GreenFire Energy and Sage Geosystems.
The demand for geothermal projects is skyrocketing, opening up big markets for startups that can solve the problem of geothermal development costs. As Latimer noted, from 2016 to 2019, there was only one major geothermal contract, but in 2020, ten new major power purchase agreements were signed by the industry.
For all of these projects, cost remains a factor. According to Latimer, contracts being signed for geothermal energy range between $ 65 and $ 75 per megawatt. By comparison, solar power plants now cost between $ 35 and $ 55 per megawatt, as The Verge reported last year.
But Latimer said the stability and predictability of geothermal power makes the cost differential acceptable to utilities and businesses that need the assurance of uninterruptible power supply. As a current Houston resident, the issue is something Latimer has intimate experience with this year’s winter frost, which left him without power for five days.
Indeed, the ability of geothermal energy to provide clean energy at all times makes it an incredibly attractive option. In a recent Department of Energy study, geothermal could meet up to 16% of electricity demand in the United States, and other estimates place geothermal contribution at nearly 20% of a fully carbon-free network.
“We have long believed in geothermal energy, but we have waited to see the right technology and team to drive innovation in the sector,” Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group said in a statement. “Fervo’s technological capabilities and the partnerships they have created with leading research organizations make it the undisputed leader of the new wave of geothermal energy.”