Big Geothermal Source in Coal Country

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"Could enhance energy security, reduce CO2 emissions, and develop high-paying clean energy jobs."

New Google-funded research produced by Southern Methodist University's Geothermal Laboratory, funded by a grant from Google.org, suggests that the temperature of the Earth beneath the state of West Virginia is significantly higher than previously estimated and capable of supporting commercial baseload geothermal energy production.

The SMU Geothermal Laboratory has increased its estimate of West Virginia's geothermal generation potential to 18,890 megawatts (assuming a conservative 2% thermal recovery rate). The new estimate represents a 75% increase over estimates in MIT's 2006 "The Future of Geothermal Energy" report and exceeds the state's total current generating capacity, primarily coal based, of 16,350 megawatts.

Researchers from SMU's Geothermal Laboratory will present a detailed report on the discovery at the 2010 Geothermal Resources Council annual meeting in Sacramento, Oct. 24-27. A summary of the report is available online.

The team's work may also shed light on other similar geothermal resources. "We now know that two zones of Appalachian age structures are hotóWest Virginia and a large zone covering the intersection of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana known as the Ouachita Mountain region," said Blackwell. "Right now we don't have the data to fill in the area in between," Blackwell continued, "but it's possible we could see similar results over an even larger area."

Blackwell thinks the finding opens exciting possibilities for the region. "The proximity of West Virginia's large geothermal resource to east coast population centers has the potential to enhance U.S. energy security, reduce CO2 emissions, and develop high paying clean energy jobs in West Virginia," he said.

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