Geothermal fracking plant scores world-record energy contract in Utah

Geothermal fracking plant scores world-record energy contract in Utah
Fervo's geothermal plant can provide continuous clean power, even when the conditions aren't ideal for solar or wind solutions to operate
Fervo's geothermal plant can provide continuous clean power, even when the conditions aren't ideal for solar or wind solutions to operate
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Fervo's geothermal plant can provide continuous clean power, even when the conditions aren't ideal for solar or wind solutions to operate
Fervo's geothermal plant can provide continuous clean power, even when the conditions aren't ideal for solar or wind solutions to operate

Just a year ago, Fervo Energy successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of its horizontally oriented geothermal system. Now the company has landed a massive contract for providing its clean, virtually endless power to the California grid.

It's only been one year since Fervo Energy unveiled a novel concept in geothermal energy harvesting at its Project Red pilot plant in Nevada. Instead of drilling vertical bores that deliver water into the hot rocks lying beneath the Earth's surface, it used techniques from the oil and gas industry to break up rocks, drive water through them horizontally, and collect the resultant steam to drive turbines at the surface.

The company said that its new method was set to change the geothermal landscape because it could work in many locales – not just those where hot rocks are close to the surface like in Iceland and New Zealand. And a new contract proves that it was right.

In what the company says is the world's largest geothermal power purchase agreement, Fervo has signed a 15-year agreement with Southern California Edison to provide 320 MW of power to the utility, which will power about 350,000 homes. The power will be provided by Fervo's Cape Station project that is currently being built in southwest Utah, with the first 70 MWs coming online in 2026 and the balance clicking on in 2028. This brings the current power contract total to 373 MW for the 400-MW-capacity plant in Beaver County.

The contract was helped along by a mandate issued in 2021 by the California Public Utilities Commission to secure 1,000 MW of "non-weather-dependent, non-battery, zero-emission energy to increase the reliability of the state's electric grid," says a Fervo statement. Indeed, unlike wind and solar which can be dramatically affected by the environment, geothermal is a much more stable energy source as the heat it draws upon is always accessible, just beneath the Earth's surface.

“Enhanced geothermal systems complement our abundant wind and solar resources by providing critical base load when those sources are limited," said California Energy Commission Chair David Hochschild. "This is key to ensuring reliability as we continue to transition away from fossil fuels.”

The new contract is the latest in a string of successes for Fervo that began when the Project Red plant, funded by Google, began supplying power to the tech giant's data centers in Nevada late last year. The company also announced in February that it was able to speed up its processes, yielding drilling times that were 70% faster and 50% cheaper than they were in 2022.

“Geothermal stands as the dependable and adaptable solution essential for California’s journey towards a fully decarbonized grid,” said Fervo's Dawn Owens. “As electrification increases and climate change burdens already fragile infrastructure, geothermal will only play a bigger role in US power markets."

Indeed, the US Department of Energy estimates that the energy provided by geothermal power could grow by a factor of 20 as soon as 2050.

Source: Fervo Energy

Positive environmental impact. But no mention of relative cost? How much is a KWH of power sold to PGE? I currently pay PGE an average of $.40 per KWH. If this provider can lower the consumer price, great. If that rate goes up, most of us consumers will just have to turn off the juice more often.
What does the extraction of heat from Region’s of the earth look like in the long run? We all know that for every action there is a reaction, sometimes with outcomes not expected or anticipated. Maybe the effects of geothermal heat will be worse than the effects of climate change in tHe long run.
1stClass, despite the constant rain of dust and meteors from outer space, on balance, the Earth looses total mass from radioactive decay in the mantle and core. She may not shine like a star, but the Earth is an effective heat engine that will vastly outlive us puny humans.

My question, how do I get my local utility to move in this or similar direction?
I don't get it. How does fracking somehow concentrate the heat? Also, what chemicals are they using to frack with? Based on the oil and gas industry, it's not just water. Finally, how often do they have to bore? Are they drilling continuously to find heat? There's too much unexplained by this article.
K.W. Putt
Fracking just creates much grater surface area for hot rock interaction with injected water to make steam. Any chemicals added to the fracking fluid would be largely removed via the initial flow back which wouldn't be put through the steam turbines.

Historically, a large problem with geothermal has been that the steam/hot water dissolves a lot of minerals from the reservoir rocks, which like hardness in your hot water tank at home tends to form hard scales, calcium carbonate or others. It's not clear how this problematic issue is being addressed.
@lon4 their 3.5MW plant cost $138M, which is 39 times more expensive than solar.

Solar ruins everything - it's so cheap and (more important) low-risk, there's no possible way for anything else to compete with it absent government mandated contracts like this.

Maintenance etc is hard to consider, if not impossible since this is so new, but for them to get a return on investment, you'd be paying $15.60 per kWh.
Magic way to sort out base-load generation.
It will certainly be more accessible and less capital than nuclear and probably will work in many parts of the world.
Look forward to UK roll-out.
Captain Danger
@Christopher it is a 400 MW plant not 3.5 MW and they will be supplying 320 MW of power
According to google electricity costs the consumer .33 $/kWh in California
320 MW = 320000 kW *.33 = $105,600 $/hour = 2534400 $ / Day = 925,056,000 $/Year
say they charge California only .10 $/Kwh they will gross 92,000,000 year
say 25 M/ year operating costs (just a guess for Maintenance and employees) that leaves them $67 M year
Payback in 2 years (if the plant costs 138M) and they won't be throwing out a S#$% load of solar panels after 10-15 years.
Sounds like a win to me.

Let's check those numbers
320,000,000 watts divided by 350,000 homes is 914 watts per home. I hope nobody wants to use a blow dryer. If you want to give each home 5 KW (which is barely enough to run a 3 ton air conditioner), then that's only enough power for 64,000 homes.
Randy J Perry
I would like to know if the citizens of Utah are aware that their state is being used to help California, and at what cost to Utah. If the firm doing the drilling & the process is safe why is it not allowed in California. The power that is added to the system should be applied to the grid as Utah's not California's
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