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Not so long ago, there were two separate sandboxes in geothermal. The first was reserved for those involved in “hot rock” geothermal, those who bore deep into the earth to provide high temperatures and electrical energy. Generally measured in kilometers, these drillers are seeking very high temperatures that produces the high-energy steam that drives the turbines for our geothermal electric plants.
Thousands of members have played well together in the sandbox for years, but soon the sand became crowded. With more friends pouring in, there was little room left to play.
On the other side, the low-temperature exchange sandbox had fewer friends playing. This was the low temperature or direct-use geothermal group. Although low-temperature geothermal exchange has been used for hundreds of years, the marketplace application of cooling and heating has been organized only since the early 1980s, and the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association has been the foundational organization. In short, lots of room to play, plenty of available sand with a few notable friends.
Then in a brilliant stroke of comradery, former Geothermal Rising Executive Director Will Pettitt, the hot-rock sandbox leader, contacted Egg Geo about making one giant playground sandbox. His point was genius and simple; it was time to get everyone together. He was right.
In 2019, a new partnership between high- and low-temperature geothermal began to take shape — at first behind the scenes, then on stage as panels were organized at conferences. Thanks to the enduring work of people such as Dr. Xiaobing Liu (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), Arlene Anderson (Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Office) and countless others, the sandbox has been opened to all in the geothermal industry, regardless of focus.
After the past few years of joining forces at the Geothermal Rising Conferences, the results are clear as 2022 conference attendance (late August) was more than 1,200 people participating in-person in Reno, Nev. (grc2022.mygeoenergynow.org).
The opening plenary session was standing-room-only and attended (remotely) by four U.S. senators — Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen of Nevada — who all shared their praises about geothermal and how its use, though invisible, was the key to decarbonization of America’s infrastructure.
One of the highlights was the second session in which the president of Geothermal Energy Organization, Ryan Dougherty, gave insight into the Inflation Reduction Act and the associated geothermal infrastructure benefits. His remarks were vital to the attendees who had many inquiries about what the new legislation would mean to the industry and consumers alike.
The nation’s trade unions got behind thermal energy networks earlier this year and because of their support, the Thermal Energy Networks and Jobs Act was signed into law on July 5, 2022, by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. Now, Sen. Klobuchar is working on federal legislation that will take this geothermal effort to the U.S. Senate and House this fall.
Liu and Anderson have been longtime advocates of low-temperature geothermal exchange. While at the Geothermal Rising conference, during an informal meeting, Xiaobing related that for years he’s come to these geothermal conferences and has been among the very few that presented on low-temperature geothermal exchange. He was brimming with pride during the meeting that he had so much company from the low-temp side.
The new sandbox has been restructured for the entire geothermal industry, and all are playing together very well. The industry has bloomed with enough opportunities to mesh the electricity-producing, hot-rock sector with the top-side direct use and low-temperature-exchange sector that makes it a win-win for everyone.
The developing thermal energy network market has engaged both sectors and has piqued the interest of commercial and residential markets, again enlarging the sandbox for all geothermal energy professionals. It is prime time that the geothermal industry takes this step and seizes this moment; geothermal needs every available mouth sharing the good works of geothermal technologies in a unified manner.
There is enough work for everyone. Teamwork has replaced competition, and that teamwork compliments all of us in the geothermal field and builds this industry to become a major renewable energy sector.
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