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How Artificial Geothermal Energy Works

The Future of EGS

"So far, there aren't a lot of success stories to point to," says Peter Rose of the University of Utah. "There's nothing in EGS that's technologically impossible, and the steps have been proven out throughout the world. But the bankers and investors say, 'Where are these plants now? Who has done one of those?' And you say: 'This will be the first.' You need to say 'We've done it here, and it costs this much, and these are the problems we've had.'"

In 2006, a panel of experts in the energy field drew a roadmap for how the U.S. could get 100,000 megawatts of potential electricity from EGS. It called for $1 billion in development, demonstration and start-up funding for EGS, spread across 15 years. "That's a bargain in my field, compared to the cost of a clean coal plant " says Tester.

"History tells us that there hasn't been consistency in U.S. energy policy for the last 30 years," says Tester. "We need consistency, and we need to stay the course for a decade or so for everything -- not just geothermal. If we continue to underfund it, it's not going to get anywhere. We know that. If you don't feed children when they are young, they don't grow up so fast."

The United States will see a shift in the energy market in the next 50 years, according to the report. Hydroelectric will become less available because of competing uses. The cost of coal will rise when older, environmentally noncompliant plants retire or if carbon policy drives the cost up. Aging nuclear plants will retire, and it will take time to rebuild. The energy sources able to generate electricity night and day will be fewer -- natural gas and oil -- opening a window for geothermal. If geothermal were developed to the point of being inexpensive by then, it might ride on its advantages into the market before cheap coal-fired electricity reappears.

So, if EGS can improve its engineering, demonstrate its abilities commercially, entice investors and lower its cost by the time a window temporarily opens in the market, it will grow. If not, geothermal, even with the addition of commercial EGS, could stay as it is in the United States, generating 4 percent of the country's electricity [source: EIA].

Keep reading to learn more about the future of energy and green technology.