Google’s new geothermal energy project is operational

A first-of-its-kind geothermal project is now underway in Nevada, where it will help power Google’s data centers with clean energy.

Google is working with startup Fervo, which has developed new technology for harnessing geothermal energy. Because they use different tactics than traditional geothermal plants, it is a relatively small project with a capacity to generate 3.5 MW. For comparison: one megawatt is enough to meet the demand of approximately 750 homes. The project will supply electricity to the local grid that serves two of Google’s data centers outside Las Vegas and Reno.

It is part of Google’s plan to run on CO2-polluting electricity day and night by 2030. To achieve that goal, the company will need to get more sources of clean energy online. And it sees geothermal energy as an important part of the future electricity mix that can be supplemented when wind and solar energy decline.

“When you think about how much we’ve developed wind and solar and lithium ion storage, here we are – this is kind of the next set of things and we feel like companies have a big role to play in advancing these technologies.”

“When you think about how much progress we’ve made in wind and solar and lithium ion storage, here we are – this is kind of the next set of things and we feel like companies have a big role to play in advancing these technologies,” says Michael Terrell. , senior director of energy and climate at Google.

The project has been in the works since 2021, when Google announced the “world’s first corporate agreement to develop a next-generation geothermal energy project.” Geothermal energy uses the heat that comes from the earth. But this effort is no ordinary geothermal plant, which would typically suck hot fluids from natural reservoirs to produce steam that spins turbines.

This new project was actually built on the edge of an existing geothermal field where, in Terrell’s words, “there are hot rocks, but no fluid.” To generate geothermal heat there, Fervo had to drill two horizontal wells through which the water is pumped. Fervo pushes cold water through fractures in the rock, heating it so it can generate steam at the surface again. It is a closed system, so the water is reused – an important feature in a drought-prone region like Nevada.

Fervo also installed fiber optic cables in the two wells to collect real-time data on the flow, temperature and performance of the geothermal system. These are tactics that have emerged from the oil and gas industry to tap energy sources that would otherwise have been out of reach.

“This was promising for us because it already leveraged existing technologies used in the oil and gas sector,” says Terrell. “And so we felt like it had a lot of potential, and a lot of potential to come online sooner or later.” In addition to this deal with Google, Fervo also receives support for its technology from Bill Gates’ climate investment company Breakthrough Energy Ventures and the US Department of Energy.

Unlike wind and solar farms that are sensitive to weather and time of day, geothermal projects can generate electricity on a more consistent basis. That’s one reason why Google is working to bring more projects like this online.

In September, it announced a new partnership with the nonprofit Project InnerSpace to “leverage their respective strengths to address the critical challenges facing geothermal development, including the development of a global mapping and assessing geothermal resources.”

For now, the company is keeping quiet about where else it could use more geothermal energy for its data centers. Data centers are known for gobbling up tons of electricity, consuming about 1 percent of global electricity.

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