Granholm Touts Geothermal, Announces $74M Funding in Utah

February 9, 2023 by Dan McCue
Granholm Touts Geothermal, Announces $74M Funding in Utah
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm (Photo by Dan McCue)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited Utah on Wednesday to tout the Biden administration’s support of geothermal energy and announce up to $74 million in new funding to help ramp up the growth of the sector.

Granholm was just one of 20 high-ranking administration officials who fanned out across the country to amplify points President Joe Biden made in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

The energy secretary is said to have specifically chosen Utah as her stop because she wanted to shine a spotlight on a renewable resource that not only holds the promise of being part of the nation’s transition away from oil and gas, but also can provide direct heat for homes and businesses.

During a press conference at the University of Utah, Granholm said the $74 million the department is making available will fund up to seven projects that will test the efficacy and scalability of so-called “enhanced” geothermal systems.

“The potential of geothermal is enormous,” she said, predicting that at some point as much as 45% of U.S. homes could be powered by heat trapped far below the Earth’s surface.

The Department of Energy has long seen Utah as one of the states at the forefront of geothermal energy development.

Granholm said the new funding, which comes from the bipartisan infrastructure law, is intended to support pilot projects that rely on innovative technologies and a variety of development techniques.

This is DOE’s first funding opportunity for geothermal energy since the launch of the Enhanced Geothermal Shot, part of DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative, which seeks to cut the cost of geothermal energy 90% by 2035. 

“Advances in enhanced geothermal systems will help introduce geothermal energy in regions where, until recently, the use of this renewable power source was thought to be impossible,” Granholm said. 

“These pilot demonstrations will help us realize the enormous potential of the heat beneath our feet to deliver clean, renewable energy to millions of Americans,” she added.

Utah FORGE, located near Milford, Utah, is the Energy Department’s largest and most advanced laboratory for what is called “enhanced” geothermal energy. Two years ago, the department committed $220 million to this work.

“Enhanced” geothermal refers to a process of drilling very deeply into the ground to tap the hottest pools of water possible — the hotter the water, the greater its potential as an energy source.

Shallower wells are often tapped as a “heating” only resource for buildings.

The DOE thinks the nation could get up to 90 gigawatts of continuous electricity from geothermal energy, which would be about 8% of the nation’s current electrical capacity. 

The word “continuous” is key here, as it means clean baseload power to keep the electrical grid powered when the sun isn’t shining, the wind isn’t blowing or both.

“We need to make sure people have power,” Granholm said.

Applications for the pilot projects will be accepted over multiple rounds. First-round letters of intent are due March 8, 2023, and first-round applications will be due July 7, 2023. 

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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