Publication Detail

Realizing the Geothermal Electricity Potential–Water Use and Consequences


Journal Article

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS)

Suggested Citation:
Mishra, Gouri Shankar, William Glassley, Sonia Yeh (2011) Realizing the Geothermal Electricity Potential–Water Use and Consequences. Environmental Research Letters 6 (034023), 1 - 8

Electricity from geothermal resources has the potential to supply a signiï¬cant portion of US baseload electricity. We estimate the water requirements of geothermal electricity and the impact of potential scaling up of such electricity on water demand in various western states with rich geothermal resources but stressed water resources. Freshwater, degraded water, and geothermal fluid requirements are estimated explicitly. In general, geothermal electricity has higher water intensity (l kWh −1) than thermoelectric or solar thermal electricity. Water intensity decreases with increase in resource enthalpy, and freshwater gets substituted by degraded water at higher resource temperatures. Electricity from enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) could displace 8–100% of thermoelectricity generated in most western states. Such displacement would increase stress on water resources if re-circulating evaporative cooling, the dominant cooling system in the thermoelectric sector, is adopted. Adoption of dry cooling, which accounts for 78% of geothermal capacity today, will limit changes in state-wide freshwater abstraction, but increase degraded water requirements. We suggest a research and development focus to develop advanced energy conversion and cooling technologies that reduce water use without imposing energy and consequent ï¬nancial penalties. Policies should incentivize the development of higher enthalpy resources, and support identiï¬cation of non-traditional degraded water sources and optimized siting of geothermal plants.