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Superhot Rock Geothermal Energy Could Unlock Terawatts of Clean, Firm Power Worldwide, Finds CATF

A new, first-of-kind modeling tool from Clean Air Task Force (CATF) highlights the vast energy potential of a subset of next-generation geothermal energy: superhot rock energy. Conducted in collaboration with the University of Twente in the Netherlands, the modeling explores the case for commercializing superhot rock by estimating the technology's energy potential around the world.

“While this modeling is preliminary, our findings suggest an enormous opportunity to unlock vast amounts of clean energy beneath our feet,” said Terra Rogers, Director for Superhot Rock Energy at CATF. “Tapping into just one percent of the world’s superhot rock energy potential could generate 63 terawatts of clean firm power, or enough to meet global electricity demand in 2021 nearly eight times over. Dozens of wells across the globe have reached superhot conditions, and with the right technical and commercial advances, we could see early commercial-scale plants in years, not decades. Energy security backed by always available zero-carbon energy isn’t a far-off dream – and the people attending events like CERAWeek are uniquely positioned to make that dream a reality.” 

Superhot rock energy employs cutting-edge deep drilling technologies to access superhot conditions (400 °C or hotter) that could potentially provide abundant, always available, renewable, cost-competitive, carbon-free energy – all with a land-use footprint much smaller than that of other energy sources.  

To further demonstrate the untapped promise of superhot rock energy, CATF used estimates of global heat endowment to estimate the financial and economic potential that could be unlocked if it were fully commercialized in specific regions, including the U.S. 

“Now, it’s important for governments and companies to test the extent to which these estimates for superhot rock energy are achievable,” added Rogers.  

Other findings include: 

  • Just one percent of superhot rock energy potential in the U.S. could produce 4.3 terawatts of clean firm power – equivalent to 21 billion barrels of oil, or enough energy to power New York City 687 times over. 
  • Just one percent of superhot rock resources in Europe have the potential to provide 2.1 terawatts of energy capacity—or enough to meet Berlin's electricity consumption in 2022, nearly 1400 times over. 
  • Superhot resources are available around the world, with thousands of terawatt-hours on every inhabited continent (i.e., every continent except Antarctica).
  • CATF’s preliminary modeling suggests that superhot rock energy at commercial scale would be cost-competitive with current market power prices.

CATF’s findings come on the heels of growing acknowledgment of advanced geothermal energy’s potential by government and industry. At CERAWeek, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released its “Pathways to Commercial Liftoff” report for geothermal, which charts a course for the commercialization of next-generation geothermal technologies and emphasizes the critical role they can play in decarbonization. Earlier this year, the DOE announced the selection of three pilot projects that will receive up to $60 million to demonstrate the ability of enhanced geothermal systems – including superhot rock energy – to help power the U.S. economy with round-the-clock clean energy.


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