Wednesday, September 30, 2009

John Lund: Geothermal energy is very competitive

Geothermal energy is currently at least understood type of renewable energy sources, says Mr. John Lund in an interview with Geothermania blog. At the same time, it is still waiting to be more researched, especially if we talk about the new geothermal segment called Hot dry rock. Mr. Lund declares that EGS is a long-term run.

John Lund is former president of the International Geothermal Association and the Geothermal Resources Council, he is co-founder and director of the Geo-Heat Center at the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) in US. He has received numerous awards on field of promoting geothermal energy. As the first American, he holds the Pactricius Medal of German Geothermal Association.

  • Mr. Lund, what is current position of geothermal energy among the other renewable sources?

This renewable energy is at least understood and part of the reason is that people do not see it. Wind or solar we see. When you look at renewables, geothermal energy needs to get such publicity as the other ones do. But on the other hand, people are becoming more and more aware of geothermal, especially of geothermal heat pumps. I see it as slowly emerging as one of the most important renewables, beside hydro energy and biomass.
  • What should be done in order to make geothermal energy more acceptable?
The only one way how you could do that is through demonstration. If you have such a project, people would see how these systems are operated and how simple they are. Then they would appreciate them, so the part of our job is to promote this and provide demonstration projects to be seen by people and politicians.
The problem of Enhanced geothermal systems is that EGS has not been well proven and there are very few projects that would be partially successful. I think it is a long-term run. One advantage of EGS is that if we drill enough deep anywhere in the world, we are about to find high temperature. EGS is paying attention especially of US government, which is putting money into it. But this money cannot let EGS overshadow the common or well-known geothermal plants located closer to areas with natural high-temperature water streams.
  • What are the main technological obstacles linked to EGS?
There are two things: costs and uncertainty about establishing fluid system. When we drill from 3 to 5 kilometers deep, we talk maybe from 3 to 10 million euros. We need to find investors that would put money into this. And if you drill deep enough and get the temperature, maybe you will not have fluid there. EGS says that anywhere we drill, we could inject hydro, but in many places all over the world, the water is not accessible. According to my opinion, those are two main obstacles.
  • Well, is there a chance that technologies currently developed in US and Europe would become technically and cost effective by 3 or 5 years?
I think, what permits deep drilling is coming up with drilling methods of Enhanced geothermal systems and dealing with risks, because it is a risky activity. And that's where research need to be done in order to deal with risks and costs of deep drilling. Once again, it is a long-term run.
  • Underground reservoir management is also the area that need to be improved. Shall we be optimistic about addressing the problems linked to it?
Well, if geothermal energy should become sustainable, the management of reservoir is the key. In the past, you drilled, then you pumped and after a few years you left the project. Now, in order to improve investments returns and to operate project longer, you have to guarantee the temperature in the reservoir. The sustainability is the most important and it has to be addressed.

On the other hand, what happened in US: they drilled too deep wells, let‘s say to 4 thousands meters. But down there was no water. They said: Oh, hot dry rock! In addition, there is a probability of 1 percent that in such a depths there is fractured rock, but in 99 percent there is just granite. You have to establish reservoir, but reservoir management has to be much more researched yet.
  • What would you think about the idea of radical innovation that would noticeably decrease drilling costs?
Current drilling technologies come from oil and gas industry. A lot of drillers don't understand that geothermal sector has another problems than oil one - especially the high temperature, chemistry, water, etc., which together make geothermal drilling more difficult. So I think that we should educate and train drillers about new technologies. On the other hand, emerging new technologies would mean the new benefit for the whole geothermal industry.
  • Let's talk about the price of electricity. Do you think it is realistic that once the electricity produced in geothermal plants would be more competitive in comparison with fossil fuels?
I think, you will see prices going down. Right now, subsidies in US or Europe are helping, but once the technology moves forward, they will be canceled. On the other hand, fossil prices are going up in a long term. Yes, today they go down because of economic situation, but in a long run we will see them going up and up. In contrast, once we build geothermal plant, operating costs are on really low level, so we are very competitive.
  • What would you recommend people trying to develop new technologies on field of EGS?
Well, you need to look at existing projects in Australia, US, Switzerland and in other countries. You should learn from mistakes they made and improve them. We should learn more about how to fracture the rock, how to drill. The main mistake means not to learn from done mistakes. Repeating them is too expensive.

At the same time, you should not neglect traditional geothermal development. In fact, many things were developed traditionally first and then you can make the next step - to go to more risky and deeper resource. I think we cannot forget traditional power generation and we should not refuse traditional geothermal approach. EGS is really long-term run.

Notice: Interview was prepared during "IGD 2009 – International Geothermal Days" held in Casta - Papiernicka in Slovakia.


  1. Technological Obstacles to EGS - Solutions:

    I am totally excited about the EGS technology and how they will finally help the world move away from the dangerous consequences of using radioactive materials in nuclear reactors.

    I read some of the comments posted above regarding some of the obstacles, including the availability of water.

    Why cant water ( or any other fluid ) be used in a closed loop cycle. Is it important that water be injected directly and have a direct contact with the hot rocks. If the closed loop cycle designed in a way that will increase the contact area between water and the pipes at very deep levels ( where is the high temperature), then heat transfer can be achieved as efficiently as if water has direct contact with the rocks. The closed cycle system will reduce water loss and the need to compensate for water lost through evaporation.

    I look forward to reading your suggestions/comments.

    B.Sc., Chemical Engineering

  2. Dear Alaa, I find you as one of those „awakened“ to the solution of climate change problems...

    Simply saying, I would divide nowadays barrier to the geothermal power engineering revolution to the two „simple“ tasks:

    a. Drill deep enough (8-10 km) and repeat it at least twice far away apart

    b. Make an „engineered“ well defined junction between those drills
    Those „simple“ tasks are the most important and I see it as enablers of the energy revolution. The thing is that we are heavily trying and are confident, based on long year R&D experience, that there is a solution we are able to introduce together with some important technology and bussines players around the world ...

    Coming to your question, regarding the water loss; our philosophy is to build something what is predictable, designable, calculable, and not left to our worshiped Mother Nature. So, again straight to your question, yeas we are intensively working on the technology, which will allow us to have close cycle with, almost zero evaporation.

    Best regards and thank you for your valuable comments