From September 30th through October 4th, a record-setting 1,630 members of the geothermal community descended on Reno, Nevada, for the annual Geothermal Rising Conference (GRC). For the second year in a row, Clean Air Task Force’s Superhot Rock Energy team attended the GRC in full force, highlighting the promise of this groundbreaking clean energy source and sharing best practices with a wide range of superhot rock energy stakeholders. We hosted and co-hosted a networking reception, a policy breakfast, and multiple workshops and technical sessions – and spoke with geothermal friends both old and new.
After five packed days of content, our superhot rock energy team of experts left the conference with a few key takeaways:
1. Superhot rock energy is the next big thing in geothermal
The geothermal industry is wide, spanning everything from low-temperature heat pumps all the way to superhot rock energy. Yet despite the dizzying array of technologies and approaches discussed at the GRC, superhot rock was front of mind.
The conference included three separate technical sessions focused on superhot rock. Over 20 papers were submitted for consideration for these sessions, and the first superhot session was standing-room-only. Representatives from companies of all types – including large oil and gas companies with significant research and development budgets – attended sessions to learn more about superhot rock energy.
To help encourage connections among members of the next-generation geothermal community, CATF hosted the second annual Next-Generation Geothermal Networking Reception. The event was filled with people interested in next-generation and superhot rock geothermal, most of whom stayed for hours in conversation with those around them. One Department of Energy (DOE) representative stated, “I could feel the energy of the future of geothermal in the room.”
Superhot rock energy and related next-generation geothermal innovations were also mentioned in brochures and at presentations throughout the conference. Toshifumi Sugama, a scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory working on high-temperature cements, was awarded the Outstanding Research Award. Resilient well completion materials are crucial for superhot rock energy development and Sugama’s recognition in this field is well deserved. Another well deserved award was the Young Professional Award (Leadership). This award went to Sarah Jewett, VP of Strategy at next-generation geothermal company Fervo Energy, which recently completed a successful test illustrating the potential of next-generation geothermal energy.
As the foremost advocate for superhot rock energy, CATF was also featured on numerous occasions. CATF’s Terra Rogers and Jenna Hill both spoke on panels, with Jenna speaking on the plenary stage alongside representatives from the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations and the Colorado Energy Office. Jenna spoke about the ways governments can minimize barriers to geothermal development and shared the findings of CATF’s research in this space.
Terra spoke on the plenary stage about the importance of embedding strong diversity, equity, and inclusion practices into the geothermal industry, elevating the need to look beyond the current thought leaders within the geothermal industry to drive innovation She also reminded the audience to “lean in” to geothermal’s potential as a climate solution when recruiting mission-driven talent. Geothermal offers a unique value proposition in our fight to combat the worst effects of climate change, and this message resonates with many recent graduates across a diverse spectrum of backgrounds.
This GRC was the first conference since the recent exciting advancements in next-generation geothermal energy at Fervo and FORGE. The success of these projects is proving the technological feasibility of geothermal energy production using techniques from oil and gas drilling. Though neither of these projects has reached superhot temperatures, their learnings will advance us closer to commercializing superhot rock energy. Excitement about the possibilities was palpable in conversations. And, as more advancements come, we expect interest in superhot rock energy to increase even more.
2. International collaboration is necessary for superhot rock energy to reach its full potential
Once it reaches commercial scale, superhot rock energy can provide “geothermal anywhere” – 24/7 renewable power in nearly any location on Earth. But until that scale is reached, early-stage demonstrations will draw on superhot rock in easier-to-access shallow conditions. These conditions are found around the world, including in the U.S., Iceland, New Zealand, and Japan. Demonstration projects and research in all of those countries will enable superhot rock energy to advance quickly, but if countries work alone, development will be slower or may not happen at all. Additional research is also ongoing at labs around the world to create the materials needed for superhot rock energy production. Collaboration on this laboratory research is needed to share learnings and materials across different countries.
At the GRC, the value of international collaboration was on full display. Though Geothermal Rising is a U.S.-based organization, the conference included representatives from around the world and featured remarks from Sylvain Brogle, President of the International Geothermal Association. Presenters repeatedly emphasized the value of collaboration and the need for policy solutions to enable information sharing.
When it came to superhot rock energy in particular, there was even more focus on international partnerships. One workshop early in the conference discussed findings from the DEEPEN project, a collaborative effort between the U.S., Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Germany. This project aims to better understand magmatic geothermal systems and is run by collaboration among universities, energy companies, and other global stakeholders. The workshop included attendees from 8 countries, all participating in an engaging series of presentations and panels, agreeing that international collaboration is needed for continued advancement of superhot rock energy.
3. Funding for field demonstrations remains crucial
We need technology innovation in various areas for superhot rock energy to reach its full commercial potential. Demonstration projects play a crucial role in this innovation process by enabling new technologies to be tested in real-world conditions. Without demonstration projects, superhot rock energy will not advance. As Lauren Boyd, Senior Advisor to the Geothermal Technologies Office at DOE, put it, “learning by doing in the field is very important” because “we need to collect as much data as we can.” However, demonstration projects are expensive and, because they are intended to test and learn, may not have an immediate financial return. Patient and adequate investment from governments and other large organizations will be necessary to fund the early-stage testing which is crucial to superhot rock development.
This need for funding and demonstration projects was a key finding of CATF’s Earth Energy Innovation policy brief, and was reinforced by conversations and presentations throughout the Geothermal Rising Conference. For example, at the CATF-hosted Innovation and Policy Breakfast, leaders in the next-generation geothermal industry discussed barriers to project development and agreed that lack of funding is one of the largest.
The conference also raised the issue of lack of geothermal funding from governments around the world. The most ambitious international collaboration, DEEPEN, received some funding from the European Union’s GEOTHERMICA initiative as well as support from participating countries. Yet the funding received is only enough for modeling efforts, not in-field demonstrations. In the U.S., the DOE has an upcoming funding opportunity for a superhot rock energy demonstration project – but this is only one project, when we need many. Increased commitment from governments around the world is necessary to fulfill superhot rock energy’s decarbonization potential.