Although geothermal energy generation might conjure up images of California and the Pacific Northwest where the geographical location supports the renewable source most, it is still an important component of the future of Texas renewables.
Geothermal most recently accounted for 0.4% of all electrical generation in the U.S., which is not a large margin by any means, but still helpful. California led the pack, understandably, with 72% of all geothermal production. This is all according to geothermal data provided the EIA.
Texas, of course, has never been a player for geothermal because of the geographical region, but many are thinking that with coal being phased out, geothermal could play a big role in the future of Texas renewables. Even if the geothermal plants are not exactly in the state. With more geothermal plants in the works to be built by next year, it will be interesting to see if geothermal gets a larger supporting role in the context of renewables.
Higher Capacity Factor and Lower Groundwater Depletion
An important thing to remember is that solar and wind have high rates of variability: this means they fluctuate and are harder to pin down for consistent electrical output. This also means that solar and wind have lower capacity factors, which is the annual energy output divided by the installed electrical capacity; or, in other words, it’s the amount of electricity that was actually generated divided by the overall potential of generated electricity if the plant, wind farm, or solar pv collection had been running at capacity 24/7.
Geothermal energy runs consistently with low variability. As a result, the capacity factor is extremely large. Last year it was in the upper 70%. Whereas wind stayed around the mid 30% and solar in the 60% range. The point being that geothermal could provide some extra stability to the grid as the U.S. grows more renewable in operation. The capacity factor speaks to a stability that would make a transition to renewables easier.
Another important consideration is that Texas has a groundwater depletion problem – geothermal can help with this by providing backup to water-free renewables like solar and wind. This is because nuclear, coal, and natural gas plants take significant amounts of water to operate. Add scorching temperatures to the mix, as well as drought in California and Texas alike and you have a big problem. Using water, naturally, like geothermal does, is a great (albeit definitely not as powerful) alternative to the ground-water heavy plants of old.
Will Texas See a Geothermal Future?
According to the EIA, “Texas has a unique untapped geothermal resource: its large network of crude oil and natural gas wells.” This has many assuming that Texas could its own geothermal plants opening up in the near future. Energy generation capacity for geothermal has actually risen by 4% since 2017, according to this report on geothermal’s rising market value.
Even though it’s overshadowed by the larger players in the renewables game – wind and solar – geothermal could still have an important role to play throughout the country, and even in Texas.