Geothermal power potential in Nevada is heating up with two successful discoveries in the Great Basin region using a previously untried method for finding unknown, hidden geothermal resources.
Courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno
Both discovered systems are blind – meaning there are no surface indications of hot water – and there had been no exploration previously in one of these areas and only minor exploration in the other. Geologists at the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology at the University of Nevada, Reno used a number of other surface and subsurface clues in their methodology.
Nevada is one of the nation’s largest producers of geothermal resources and energy, and researchers with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, a public service unit at the University of Nevada, Reno, are making important contributions to the development of these renewable resources through a project supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.
"The exploration, the mapping, the analysis, all led us to the top two spots – of perhaps hundreds of potential sites – to drill geothermal wells," Jim Faulds, director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, said. "Success at two sites provides an initial validation of the methodology we developed, and opens up new possibilities for power generation sites by the industry."
Measurements from the new geothermal wells have been completed, and the wells are capped and waiting for industry to step in. Now that these blind geothermal systems have been discovered, it's up to the geothermal industry to conduct additional drilling for possible development of a geothermal power plant.
"It's gratifying to demonstrate positive results of applied geological science," Faulds said. "After several years of research, mapping and analysis, we've identified many promising areas that have great potential for geothermal power. Funds allowed for test drilling at two sites, but there are dozens of other promising sites that I'm excited about across the region."
The new methodology was developed as part of the U.S. Department of Energy-funded Play Fairway project, underway since 2014 and funded through their Geothermal Technologies Office. Collaborations with the geothermal industry, including Ormat Nevada Inc. and U.S. Geothermal, were also beneficial to this study.
"The geothermal wealth of this region can be attributed to its active faulting and thinning of the crust, which allows hot fluids to rise more quickly to levels accessible through drilling," Faulds said. "The Play Fairway project provides a catalyst for accelerating geothermal development in the region."