Google Launches Clean Energy 11/28 07:15
An advanced geothermal project has begun pumping carbon-free electricity
onto the Nevada grid to power Google data centers there, Google announced
(AP) -- An advanced geothermal project has begun pumping carbon-free
electricity onto the Nevada grid to power Google data centers there, Google
Getting electrons onto the grid for the first time is a milestone many new
energy companies never reach, said Tim Latimer, CEO and co-founder of Google's
geothermal partner in the project, Houston-based Fervo Energy.
"I think it will be big and it will continue to vault geothermal into a lot
more prominence than it has been," Latimer said in an interview.
The International Energy Agency has long projected geothermal could be a
serious solution to climate change. It said in a 2011 roadmap document that
geothermal could reach some 3.5% of global electricity generation annually by
2050, avoiding almost 800 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
But that potential has been mostly unrealized up until now. Today's
announcement could mark a turning point.
Fervo is using this first pilot to launch other projects that will deliver
far more carbon-free electricity to the grid. It's currently completing initial
drilling in southwest Utah for a 400-megawatt project.
Google and Fervo Energy started working together in 2021 to develop
next-generation geothermal power. Now that the site near Winnemucca, Nevada is
operating commercially, its three wells are sending about 3.5 megawatts to the
The data centers require more electricity than that, so Google signed other
agreements for solar and storage too. It has two sites in Nevada, one near Las
Vegas and the other near Reno. Michael Terrell, who leads decarbonization
efforts globally at Google, said the company is looking at using geothermal
energy for other data centers worldwide as a portfolio of carbon-free
"We're really hoping that this could be a springboard to much, much more
advanced geothermal power available to us and others around the world," he said.
Google announced back in 2020 that it would use carbon-free energy every
hour of every day, wherever it operates, by 2030.
Many energy experts believe huge companies like Google can play a catalytic
role in accelerating clean energy.
Terrell noted the company was also an early supporter of wind and solar
projects, helping those markets take off.
"It's a very similar situation. Now that we've set a goal to be 24/7
carbon-free energy, we have found it will take more than just wind, solar and
storage to achieve that goal," Terrell said in an interview. "And frankly to
get power grids to 24/7 carbon-free energy as well, we're going to need this
new set of advanced technologies in energy. Looking at this deal with Fervo, we
saw an opportunity to play a role in helping to take these technologies to
The United States leads the world in using the Earth's heat energy for
electricity generation, but geothermal still accounts for less than half a
percent of the nation's total utility-scale electricity generation, according
to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2022, that geothermal power
came from California, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, Oregon, Idaho and New Mexico.
Those are states traditionally thought of as having geothermal potential
because there are reservoirs of steam or very hot water close to the surface in
But Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said earlier this year that advances
in enhanced geothermal systems will help introduce this form of energy in
regions where it's been thought to be impossible. Granholm was announcing
funding for the industry.
Last year, the Energy Department launched an effort to achieve "aggressive
cost reductions" in enhanced geothermal systems. This month, in announcing $44
million to advance geothermal deployment nationwide, DOE said the United States
has potential for 90 gigawatts of geothermal electricity --- the equivalent of
powering more than 65 million American homes --- by 2050.
Enhanced geothermal companies, including Fervo, are now going after heat
deeper below ground, unlocking potential in many more places. Latimer is a
former drilling engineer in the oil and gas industry.
Drilling technology and practices drastically improved during the shale boom
that transformed the United States into a top oil and gas producer and
exporter. But there has been very little tech transfer from the oil and gas
industry to geothermal, said Sarah Jewett, vice president of strategy at Fervo.
"They were using all of the old, for lack of a better word, janky stuff from
old-school oil and gas development," she said. "We basically just went to the
oil field service companies and said, ?Give us all your best stuff.' And we
have been using all of the modern drilling technology to do our development."
That has led to far greater efficiency and lower cost, she said.
In a presentation at ClimateTech 2023 at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, Latimer talked about how Fervo is pioneering horizontal drilling in
geothermal reservoirs. In Nevada, Fervo drilled some 8,000 feet down, turned
sideways and drilled about 3,250 feet horizontally.
By drilling horizontally, Fervo can reach much more of the hot reservoir,
instead of having to have to drill many vertical wells.
Fervo pumps cold water down an injection well, then over hot rock
underground to another well, the production well. The path between is created
by fracking, or fracturing the rock. The water heats up to nearly 400 degrees
Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) before returning to the surface. Once there,
it transfers its heat to another liquid with a low boiling point, creating
steam. The pressure of steam expanding spins a turbine to produce electricity
like in a coal or natural gas-fired plant. The geothermal water, now cooled, is
put back down the injection well to start the cycle again, in a closed-loop
Well tests this summer were very favorable, according to Fervo. Latimer
wants to replicate them now in as many places as possible, as quickly as
possible, to help transition away from coal, oil and natural gas to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions.
The venture capital firm DCVC invested $31 million in Fervo last year, said
Rachel Slaybaugh, a partner there. They did it, she said, because Fervo was
ready to add power to the grid while competitors weren't there yet. Slaybaugh
said it's a plus that Latimer used to run a drill rig--- it was the right team,
who knew what kind of company they were building.
Both Fervo and Google said geothermal is valuable as an "always-on" clean
technology that can be scaled up before 2030 as the world tries to cut its
greenhouse gas emissions. Fervo's next project, in Beaver County, Utah is
slated to begin delivering clean power to the grid in 2026 and reach full
production in 2028.
"This is unlocking something deeply sought after in the market today as we
transition away from fossil fuels, and that is, round-the-clock renewable
energy," Jewett said.