Google-Backed Project Paves Way for Enhanced Geothermal Development
Fervo Energy recently completed a first-of-its-kind horizontal well test for its enhanced geothermal system in Nevada. With a high flow rate and electricity output, the project’s early results set the stage for a promising market.
Texas-based Fervo Energy wrapped up a month-long well test at its enhanced geothermal system (EGS) pilot project in north-central Nevada. Called “Project Red,” the company’s first-of-its-kind horizontal doublet well system yielded a flow rate of 63 liters per second at 375.8 degrees Fahrenheit—enabling 3.5 megawatts (MW) of electricity production.
Fervo Energy completed the first test of its enhanced geothermal energy pilot project in Nevada. Image used courtesy of Fervo
Project Red involved drilling two wells, one for injection and another for production, within a hard rock geothermal foundation about 7,700 feet below the ground. The lateral sections of the wells extended about 3,250 feet horizontally. Located near a geothermal power station, the site is designed to deliver high-temperature geothermal flow rates to boost the facility’s power capacity.
Data collected through Project Red will inform Fervo’s next horizontal well pair, targeting more than double the power output of the first design.
Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy, stated the project proves it’s possible to produce 24/7 carbon emissions-free energy in new geographies by adopting drilling technology from the oil and gas sector. The company partnered with Google in 2021 to develop a project to power its cloud data centers in the Las Vegas region. The site in Nevada will provide continuous power and reduce Google’s hourly dependency on fossil fuels.
In the announcement, Fervo said its results support the findings of the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Enhanced Geothermal Shot, a program focused on unlocking geothermal energy’s potential to satisfy over 20% of America’s power needs. The DOE leads several ongoing programs to lower EGS costs and increase deployment, supporting the federal government’s broader clean energy goals.
Geothermal energy generates only 0.4% of utility-scale electricity in the U.S., according to 2022 data from the Energy Information Administration. Most plants are located in California and Nevada, which claimed 69.5% and 24.2% of total generation last year, respectively. However, Fervo’s fracking-based technique widens the map of potential geothermal drilling sites nationwide.
What Is an Enhanced Geothermal System and How Does It Work?
Geothermal supplies 3.7 gigawatts (GW) of electricity in the U.S. today, enough for 2.7 million homes. However, DOE reports that the U.S. has enough technical EGS potential to meet the world’s electricity needs. A scale-up in commercial deployment could power more than 65 million homes.
High drilling costs are a significant barrier to geothermal development, forming the basis for the DOE’s goal to cut EGS costs by 90% to $45 per megawatt-hour (MWh) by 2035. With lower costs, developers can drill deeper and horizontally for enhanced geothermal designs, boosting the resource’s productivity and expanding the scale of potential drilling sites.
Conventional geothermal power plants produce electricity by capturing heat, in the form of steam, from hot water reservoirs miles below the earth’s surface. Such reservoirs are buried under layers of rocks, typically found in geysers and hot springs. That’s why today’s geothermal infrastructure is concentrated in California, Nevada, and other western states, while the rest of the country has less favorable conditions for geothermal production.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Energy Atlas maps America’s geothermal energy infrastructure and resources. Image used courtesy of the EIA
However, EGS expands the U.S.’s geothermal potential by injecting fluid into areas where rocks are hot but lack fluid and permeability—conditions normally required for conventional geothermal sites. With fluid injection expanding the size of the fluid pathways, geothermal reservoirs can be created anywhere in the country.
Project Red Results
Fervo Energy submitted a 15-page white paper detailing Project Red’s results on EarthArXiv, a preprint server. The company reviewed past EGS projects worldwide and found its horizontal doublet well design was the most productive system in terms of flow rate (at over 60 liters per second) and electric power equivalent (3.5 MW).
Cross-section of Fervo Energy’s horizontal doublet enhanced geothermal system (EGS) and deep vertical monitoring well. Image used courtesy of Fervo Energy (page 3)
Fervo was founded in 2017 and has raised over $180 million from several notable names, including Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy Ventures and California-based VC firms DCVC and Capricorn Investment Group. Earlier this year, the company received a $10 million strategic investment from Devon Energy Corporation, an oil and gas producer headquartered in Oklahoma.
The company aims to own and operate over 1 GW of geothermal projects by 2030, serving utilities and other project partners across hydrogen production and direct air capture. It has already signed 93 MW of power purchase agreements with energy firms in California.