Climate and Clean Tech | May 20, 2021

Google’s turn to geothermal renews interest in 100-year-old clean tech

Amy Cortese
ImpactAlpha Editor

Amy Cortese

ImpactAlpha, May 20 – Geothermal energy taps the heat generated from the earth’s molten core to heat homes and businesses and drive turbines to generate electricity. Unlike wind and solar, it provides a steady source of renewable power that does not need storage, but it represents a tiny slice of today’s energy pie.

Most geothermal systems to date have been located close to surface-level thermal waters – think Iceland’s hot springs or California’s geysers. Google is partnering with Houston, Texas-based Fervo, which uses advanced drilling, fiber-optic sensing, and analytics to identify deeper thermal reservoirs, to develop a “next-generation geothermal power project” in Nevada. Google has pledged to use 100% carbon-free energy by 2030.

Next-gen geothermal

Fervo and Google will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to boost the productivity of geothermal systems. (Google and its subsidiary DeepMind are also using AI to better predict wind power output). The companies expect to begin supplying energy to Nevada’s electric grid system next year.

In addition to suppling 24/7 clean power, the project “acts as a proof-of-concept to show how firm clean energy sources such as next-generation geothermal could eventually help replace carbon-emitting power sources around the world,” said Google’s Michael Terrell.

Capricorn Investment Group and Breakthrough Energy were among backers of Fervo’s $28 million Series B round last month.

Catalytic capital

Cost and technology improvements could boost geothermal generation 26-fold by 2050, to 60 gigawatts, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Last month the agency awarded $15 million to research projects at Sandia Labs and West Virginia University that aim to drive down costs.

The founders of Fervo and Zanskar, a geothermal exploration tech startup, have participated in an Activate and Berkeley Lab-supported accelerator for entrepreneurial scientists. Prime Impact Fund recently led a $3.2 million seed round for Zanskar. 

“We are increasingly witnessing a compelling use case for geothermal across residential, commercial and industrial sectors,” says Unreasonable’s Pratibha Vuppuluri.