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The Other Major Renewables

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This paper is about two types of renewable energy: geothermal generation and hydroelectric generation. The former supports one major western U.S. grid with substantial dispatchable capacity, and has significant potential for expansion. Hydro supports many U.S. grids, but is still somewhat regional, and has limited potential for expansion. Neither emits significant greenhouse gases. Although both are dispatchable (and thus can mitigate intermittent renewable sources like PV and Wind), hydroelectric is highly constrained, and geothermal is only slightly constrained.

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John Benson's picture

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 18, 2020 5:23 pm GMT

Thanks for sharing, John. It seems like much of hydro and geothermal are just taken for granted because they operate well where they are but are location-dependent and thus not scalable as any sort of magic silver bullet to the clean energy problem. That said, it's interesting to hear about the potential for more generation and for improved technologies/strategies that you outline, particularly for geothermal. Do you think the still natural 'ceiling' on geothermal limits the amount of resources that's being put towards further developments in the space?

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Feb 18, 2020 6:34 pm GMT

There are substantial undeveloped geothermal resources in the West, and none in the East. However, since it's dispatchable, it (and hydro) will support our (California's) goal of 100% GHG-free power by 2045. In my mind at least, there is little doubt that we will achieve this.

By the way, the one thing I didn't develop in this post is how geothermal is constrained. For most large geothermal projects (like the Geysers), they cannot be run indefinitely at their full output. I would guess that Calpine (et al) will economically dispatch these units. That is, run them when the price of power is the highest. Right now that when intermittent renewables are not producing significant power.


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