To have a hope of stemming climate change, of staying under the 2° C rise that scientists have said is a critical milestone, we will need every available solution and many more that have yet to be developed.
Getting to net-zero, and eventually to 24/7 Carbon-free Energy, is a community problem, a public sector problem. This is not a matter of commercial opportunity, but a matter of global well-being and possibly even survival. We don’t have time to wait for markets to figure out there is money in carbon-free renewables.
We need massive amounts of creativity and innovation, and we need it as soon as possible.
Then we need to get those new ideas into production and scaled up quickly.
Geothermal energy is unique in that it is both a proven approach that has already demonstrated gigawatt-scale operation, and a brand new category with hundreds of new technology possibilities that all need research, seed funding and support to reach a global scale. And of course, it delivers clean, resilient, always-on energy with the smallest footprint and lowest environmental impact.
The total available energy reserves under our feet are more than enough to provide humankind with clean power, heating and cooling for thousands of years if we can figure out how to harness the energy.
So how do we accelerate access to this Earth energy so that it can contribute to solving the climate change challenge in time to keep us under 2° C?
We need a catalyst, a way to spark rapid innovation and prime the pump for private investment. Thankfully, there is a well-understood and often used model, a blueprint, for exactly this sort of challenge.
The answer is modelled on initiatives launched in the past to support the development of the oil industry, hydropower, and of course, nuclear energy. Even the internet and the entire computer and semiconductor industry were created this way.
But this time it’s clean, safe, scalable and global access to Earth energy.
Governments need to set the targets and the agenda, provide the policy and tax support, the R&D funding, and the regulatory support that allows commercialization and deployment of every possible Earth-powered technology solution. And set up the market conditions for the private sector to take those innovations and scale up.
It’s this combination of public sector initiatives, private capital, and efficient markets that will get us there. That will help us meet the challenge of 2° C.
We are already seeing the results of the first wave of clean energy initiatives – intermittent renewables have become cheaper than fossil fuels for power, and electric vehicles have lower ownership costs than their internal combustion predecessors.
These are successes that would not have been possible without public sector support to get the ball rolling: tax credits, incentives, loan guarantees, and funding for the primary research that enabled solutions to be created.
Now we need support for the next mile, perhaps the last mile, of clean, local 24/7 power, heating and cooling by harnessing the power of the Earth.
Interestingly, we can think of geothermal energy on a parallel track to the century-long arc of the oil and gas industry.
Oil had been known for several thousand years before the first oil refinery in the US was built to process oil that was found floating on water. Drilling began in 1859, and expanded to places where oil was easily identified and accessed. 150 years later the technology has matured to the point that we are drilling to 12km, drilling in deep water, and recovering much more of the underground resource with technologies like Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage. Continuous innovation, supported by the societies that benefited from it, vastly expanded the places where oil could be produced and how efficiently we could produce it.
Geothermal energy has also been known for thousands of years, and in the last hundred years, we have tapped the obvious places on Earth to generate significant power from now-traditional hydrothermal systems. We are like the oil industry in 1900.
Now we need to go wider and bigger. Geothermal Anywhere. Geothermal Everywhere.
New technology that expands the range of places and ways that Earth power can be harnessed, technologies like our Eavor-Loop™ system, are emerging rapidly as the need for clean, scalable, baseload energy becomes more urgent. These innovations make the possibility of continuous, reliable, global clean energy much more tangible. We can deliver on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #7: ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
With the right public sector support, plus private sector resources and technology, this is not just the Geothermal decade but could well be the Geothermal century.
It’s the journey to the center of the Earth. To save the Earth.