Sunday, October 30th, 2011
(Updated 11/6/11 with article ENERGY: Geothermal wants a level playing field by Eric Wolff at end of post.)
Tim Kelley, CEO of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation, calls Imperial Valley the renewable energy epicenter of California. He could just as easily say the region is at the very bottom of renewable energy resources in California. My last trip to the Imperial Valley took me to Calipatria near the south end of the Salton Sea. Every day Calipatrians view the city’s landmark, a 184 foot flag pole, the top of which is at sea level. Calipatria is the lowest city in the western hemisphere. The happy combination of low elevation, thin earth crust and seismic activity enables the Imperial Valley to generate 20% of all the geothermal energy produced in the United States.
The 16 geothermal plants in the area produce over 530 megawatts of electricity most of which is sold to Southern California Edison. It is anticipated that the Salton Sea geothermal field may contain an additional 2,000 megawatts of commercial development potential.
None of the “hot rock” electricity is directed to San Diego due to the lack of transmission line capacity, a problem which the Sunrise Powerlink will solve. The biggest operator with 10 facilities is CalEnergy, a MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company (part of the Warren Buffett empire). Cal Energy’s Vonderahe-1 is one of the largest and hottest geothermal wells in the world. It can produce nearly 2.2 million pounds of hot water in an hour, enough to power a 50-megawatt power plant. Number two operator in the Imperial Valley is Ormat Technologies, a subsidiary of Israel-based Ormat Industries.
The Salton Sea area of Imperial County will see five new geothermal projects go on line in 2012 with a combined capacity of 239 megawatts.
In simplified terms, a geothermal production well is drilled to a depth of 5,000 to 10,000 feet to tap into reservoirs of superheated fluids. This 400 degree Fahrenheit brine rushes to the surface where steam is “flashed” in a series of closed vessels to drive turbines to produce electricity. The cooled-down brine is piped a distance away from the generating plant to be injected back into the earth to re-enter the reservoir to capture the earth’s heat. Once a reservoir is located and tapped the flow of the super-hot brine is relatively steady and sustainable. No carbon emissions are associated with the process. Unlike solar and wind energy, geothermal energy is a baseload resource generating electricity 24/7.
This past week San Diego was the host of the 2011 convention of the Geothermal Energy Association. More than 2,500 attendees from 33 different states and 13 different countries came together in San Diego for the largest gathering of geothermal energy leaders in the world. In conjunction with the event GEA published a 13 page report, Energizing Southern California’s Economy: The Economic Benefits and Potential for Geothermal Energy in Southern California. Click here for the report.
Google has added to the body of knowledge by contributing their technical expertise and a big chunk of cash. Enhanced Geothermal Systems Potential in Google Earth incorporates tens of thousands of new thermal data points to create the most data rich maps of U.S. geothermal resources to date. Here’s what Fast Company thinks.
In addition to energy to generate electricity, the vast geothermal resources in the Imperial Valley include geothermal fluids rich in several economically valuable metals including lithium, manganese and zinc. Recently Forbes magazine outlined the current state of the opportunity, Lithium: The New California Gold Rush.
You will want to take the virtual tour of a CalEnergy geothermal facility. Click here to begin your grand tour.
In 2008 the Imperial Irrigation District commissioned a Renewable Energy Feasibility study. In addition to geothermal, the 118 page report evaluates solar, wind and biomass energy.
Eric Wolff in the North County Times ENERGY: Geothermal wants a level playing field.