Harnessing the power of lava for energy sounds like a herculean task, but a group of researchers in Iceland think they are up to the challenge. Iceland ― which already fills a quarter of its electricity needs with geothermal energy ― is looking to expand its geothermal energy production with the Iceland Deep Drilling Project.
Geothermal energy, obtained by tapping into and converting underground reservoirs of heat into energy, is touted by the U.S. government for its availability, low emissions, and long-term sustainability.
Given the technological advancements coming up and Iceland’s success, why does geothermal energy only account for 0.41% of U.S. electricity production?
The answer is simple: costs. The start-up costs for geothermal energy are extremely high. To get a geothermal energy plant off the ground in the U.S. costs a minimum of $2500 per installed kilowatt. In comparison, construction costs for a coal-fired power plant range between $1,000 and $1,500 per installed kilowatt, and construction costs for a gas-fired power plant range from $400 – $800 per kilowatt.
The high start-up costs are not just limited to the U.S. The exploratory borehole for the Iceland Deep Drilling Project cost a minimum of $22 million. The Geothermal Energy Association estimates that the average cost of a 20-megawatt geothermal power plant stands around $30 million.
Until renewable energy sources ― and geothermal energy in particular ― can be cost efficient without large government subsidies, they will remain a drop in the bucket for U.S. energy production.