Wednesday, 20 August 2008 05:53

Google pours nearly $11 million into geothermal power

Google has continued its investments in alternative energy sources by injecting nearly $US11 million into enhanced geothermal systems.

Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) involve pushing water through hot rocks and using the resulting steam to drive turbines. This contrasts with more traditional geothermal operations that rely on naturally occurring steam and hot water.

There are concerns that enhanced geothermal systems could cause earthquakes. Five tremors occurred in Basel, Switzerland, in late 2006 and early 2007 following a geothermal test project carried out by a company called Geopower.

In March, World Radio Switzerland reported that the director of Geopower faces legal action following an investigation into the incident, and that SFr3 million had already been paid in compensation.

Such considerations aside, "EGS could be the 'killer app' of the energy world," said Dan Reicher, director of climate and energy initiatives for, Google's philanthropic arm.

"It has the potential to deliver vast quantities of power 24/7 and be captured nearly anywhere on the planet. And it would be a perfect complement to intermittent sources like solar and wind," he added.

So where's the money going? Find out on page two.

The money is going to two companies and a university.

AltaRock Energy will receive a $US6.25 million investment to develop innovative technologies to achieve significant cost reductions and improved performance in EGS projects.

Potter Drilling will receive a $US4 million investment to develop new approaches to lower the cost and expand the range of deep hard rock drilling. The funds will be provided in two tranches.

Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab will be the beneficiary of a $US489,521 grant to improve understanding of the size and distribution of geothermal energy resources and to update geothermal mapping of North America.

Together, these activities cover locating geothermal resources, reaching them, and then extracting the energy.

"We're big believers in EGS and we're looking for more opportunities," said Reicher.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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