Event recap

On March 18, 2021, the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center hosted a virtual event with Susan Hamm, Geothermal Technologies Office Director at the US Department of Energy; Kathy Hannun, President and Co-Founder at Dandelion Energy; Sarah Jewett, Director of Strategy at Fervo Energy; Teresa Eileen Jordan, J. Preston Levis Professor of Engineering at Cornell University; and Jack Kiruja, Associate Program Officer for Geothermal Energy at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The event was moderated by Zachary Strauss, Policy Analyst at Atlas Public Policy, and Nonresident Fellow at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center. The event was held in conjunction with the publication of a report by Strauss focusing on geothermal energy’s value to US decarbonization. Panelists discussed the viability of geothermal energy in decarbonization efforts, obstacles to scalability, and prospects for the industry. Opening remarks were delivered by Randolph Bell, Senior Director and Richard Morningstar Chair for Global Energy Security at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center.

Strauss began the conversation by highlighting geothermal energy’s potential in addressing diverse problems for the United States and across the world. Hamm gave a breakdown of how geothermal fits into the United States’ long-term energy matrix, stating that it is expected to be a vital part of a decarbonized economy by providing clean baseload power and heating. Hamm also discussed the leading role that the US Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Office is taking in boosting geothermal development to 60 GW of power generation by 2050.

Jewett brought a private sector perspective, detailing how low recognition and visibility is an impediment to widespread distribution. Reducing the cost curve and increasing financing opportunities will be necessary to scale geothermal technologies on par with other renewables and fossil fuels. Hannun continued the private sector discussion by highlighting how geothermal heat pumps can reduce the 15 percent of global GHG emissions that come from buildings. Heat pumps would provide decarbonized heating and cooling to buildings without straining electric grids.

As geothermal extraction is based primarily in Western states, Jordan laid out opportunities for eastward expansion, particularly in fossil fuel reliant Northeastern states. Deep direct geothermal extraction, which brings hot water out of ground and distributes it as heat, is an efficient alternative to current mechanisms but require high investment costs. Research conducted by the Department of Energy and further large-scale project studies could reduce uncertainty in extraction, paving the way for its integration in the eastern US.

On the finance aspect, Kiruja provided an insightful perspective on market signals required for improved geothermal investment. Stakeholders must have a proper environment that reduces uncertainty and risk where possible. Although difficult, solutions include the establishment of risk mitigation facilities across the developing world. These facilities, funded by public and multilateral organization funds, would help strengthen nascent geothermal markets. In more developed markets, risk mitigation facilities would be based on insurance principles.

The conversation then went to the policy arena, focusing on state and federal initiatives needed to scale up geothermal energy. Hamm discussed how technological development is vital for scalability, and that the Geothermal Technologies Office recently released a multi-year program plan to address research and development. Other solutions addressed were reductions in permitting time and tax incentive structures to match those given to other renewable energies, solar and wind. Hannun praised state-led initiatives, such as in New York and Connecticut, that help reduce cost structures for low- and middle-income customers. Broadly, cost structures on the investment and consumer side need to be addressed for geothermal to fully compete with fossil fuels.

Jordan discussed the central role that universities, such as Cornell and the University of West Virginia, play in advancing geothermal technologies. These universities are developing at-scale demonstrations of geothermal district heating, a necessary development for widespread scalability.

The discussion focused on the unique structure of geothermal. It functions as a source of electricity, heating, and possible critical mineral extraction. Further, its use for heating and cooling could offer stronger resilience against strained electric grids during harsh winters or summers. Kiruja specifically argued how geothermal market development could help developing economies, ensure food security, and provide jobs to vulnerable communities and women. The capacity of geothermal is immense, with the potential to provide nearly 8 percent of global power generation and 107 GW heating potential in Europe alone, displacing 22 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

The panelists then ended the conversation by stating how they view geothermal energy’s development by 2030 and 2050. Hamm highlighted the United States’ goal of 60 GW of power production provided by geothermal, 28 million heat pumps, and 17,500 geothermal heating centers. Hannun, Jewett, and Jordan expected recognition of geothermal to greatly expand, and for its use in homes and universities to expand. Kiruja concluded by stating IRENA goals of triple the installed capacity of geothermal by 2030 compared to 2015 and 210 GW of heating.

Juan Gomez is a Spring 2022 Young Global Professional at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center.


Opening remarks by

Randolph Bell
Senior Director and Richard Morningstar Chair for Global Energy Security
Atlantic Council Global Energy Center

A conversation with

Susan Hamm
Geothermal Technologies Office Director
US Department of Energy

Kathy Hannun
President and Co-Founder
Dandelion Energy

Sarah Jewett
Director of Strategy
Fervo Energy

Teresa Eileen Jordan
J. Preston Levis Professor of Engineering
Cornell University

Jack Kiruja
Associate Program Officer, Geothermal Energy
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

Moderated by

Zachary Strauss
Policy Analyst
Atlas Public Policy;
Nonresident Fellow
Atlantic Council Global Energy Center

Learn more about the Global Energy Center

The Global Energy Center promotes energy security by working alongside government, industry, civil society, and public stakeholders to devise pragmatic solutions to the geopolitical, sustainability, and economic challenges of the changing global energy landscape.