Unlike other intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind, solar or wave, geothermal plants can deliver base load to the electric energy system and can successfully replace coal-fired or nuclear power plants. Geothermal energy is one of the cleanest technologies available and can generate electricity with very little or no greenhouse gas emissions. Geothermal power is generated mostly from hydrothermal reservoirs that are found in depths of 1.2 miles to 1.9 miles. However, such reservoirs do not appear everywhere and are limited mostly to the volcanically active areas.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan’s (technicalinsights.frost.com) Geothermal Energy Generation: Technology Penetration and Roadmapping research finds that the most promising novel drilling technology is hydrothermal spallation, which uses high-pressure hot fluid to micro fracture the rock and rinse it out from the drilling well.
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“The geothermal market is poised for big expansion in the near to medium future,” said Technical Insights Research Analyst Tomasz Kaminski. “Researchers from this sector are developing new technologies that can be used in new geothermal reservoirs, such as engineered geothermal systems (EGS) also called hot dry rock (HDR) systems, which enable electricity generation from geothermal energy almost anywhere in the world.”
Major problems faced by the geothermal industry are high initial cost and the risks involved in developing geothermal projects. Drilling of the geothermal well itself amounts to a major portion of the cost of the entire geothermal project. It is also a time-consuming process.
The permitting processes represent 11 percent of total geothermal project development cost before drilling of the first well starts. The next step is drilling, which usually amounts to 30 percent of total costs. Single wells can reach figures as high as $6.8 million, and at least two wells are always necessary. Expenditure on all these activities as well as the final power plant construction will incur very high costs.
Accurate exploration of geothermal reservoirs and gathering of information on the reservoir properties are vital before drilling commences. The best way to rate the geothermal reservoir is to drill a well to reach geothermal resources and check its properties. As drilling of deep geothermal wells is an expensive proposition, most developers will not drill their first borehole before there is some degree of certainty that geothermal resources with specific flow rate will be found at a specific depth. Hence, geothermal resource exploration methods are very important in developing such projects.
Other factors inhibiting the growth of the geothermal market are limited access to drilling rigs and lack of experienced specialists for developing new technologies, which would allow for increased utilization of geothermal energy from systems such as EGS.
Reducing costs as well as drilling time is vital for further development of EGS systems. Hydrothermal spallation appears as a promising drilling technology that could fulfill the above-mentioned requirements. It involves contactless drilling, thus eliminating bit wear occurring in conventional drilling techniques and increases equipment reliability.
More research and field-test activities as well as scaling up of existing demonstration projects are necessary to ensure that the market picks up momentum. Investors and developers from the geothermal sector should focus on improving existing technologies and developing new ones for deep drilling and exploration of geothermal reservoirs.
“Novel solutions in these two sectors will be crucial for expansion of the geothermal energy market in the future,” said Kaminski. “Novel technologies for deep drilling in hard rock environments will also find application in the oil and gas industry. Directional drilling will be especially important from the unconventional shell gas extraction point of view.”
Geothermal Energy Generation: Technology Penetration and Roadmapping, a part of the Technical Insights subscription, provides an overview of the general industry scenario, with key drivers and challenges and their impact on the market. Further, this research service includes detailed technology analysis and industry trends evaluated following extensive interviews with market participants.
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