In our efforts to achieve net-zero emissions, it can be helpful to keep an open mind and look beyond the major power sources such as wind and solar. That is why earlier this year, the US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded four projects 8.4 million USD in funding to use abandoned oil and gas wells to establish geothermal energy.
“With this initiative approach, we can transform existing fossil fuel wells into productive sources of sustainable, clean geothermal energy,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman explains. “These efforts will demonstrate how to leverage our existing oil and gas workforce and infrastructure, bringing more geothermal energy online and transitioning our energy workforce into the growing clean energy economy.”
Geothermal energy uses the heat of the earth’s core to generate heat. With the use of a heat pump, homes can extract hot air from the earth during the winter months and transfer the heat out of the building during the summer months, effectively cooling the home. Since this typically requires drilling, which can be both expensive and harmful to the environment, the 3 million abandoned gas and oil wells around the U.S. could suit very well. DOE’s pilot program, Wells of Opportunity: ReAmplify, will be using the funds to extract geothermal energy from abandoned wells across the country, where possible.
In Europe, geothermal energy was first explored in their 2020 Multi-sites EGS Demonstration project (MEET). Europe already has some success stories. Iceland, for example, has vast reserves of geothermal energy due to its volcanic landscape. They are using geothermal energy to provide heating for 9 out of 10 households.
MEET explains that while it was possible to repurpose the old wells, they must meet certain conditions.
- There should be a demand for heat demand nearby as heat needs costly flowlines to be transported.
- The well’s ability to generate heat must be high enough to meet the demand.
- The well must be in good enough condition as some may be so degraded that expensive retrofitting may be required.
ReAmplify is facing the same challenges. However, three out of the four project groups will explore the issue of distance. To make sufficient use of qualitative wells in the remote areas, they will be using the energy to generate electricity, which can travel farther than heat. For the wells that are located around urbanized areas, a direct heat supply could be established.
A final challenge is introduced in whether the American homes are outfitted with a heat pump that can extract the heat directly. If not, residents may find it too expensive to install the pump. In this case, federal support may be needed. The Biden Administration has already allocated 3 billion USD towards green homes for low-income families, but further investment should be set aside to fully allow families to benefit from the possible new green energy source. Sign this petition to support geothermal energy.
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