The U.S. is capable of increasing its production of geothermal energy twentyfold by 2050 through deployment of next-generation technologies, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Exploiting new sites to harness energy would allow geothermal generation to grow from a current total capacity of roughly 3,700 MW to at least 90,000 MW in that timeframe.

With the development of storage capabilities and other technologies, DOE estimates the capacity could increase to account for up to a third of the 700,000 to 900,000 MW of additional clean energy that will be needed by 2050 to reach the Biden administration’s climate targets and satisfy electricity demand.

Geothermal energy currently accounts for 0.4% of the nation’s electricity, with power delivered by 93 power plants across seven states. Between 2016 and 2021, net growth of the industry remained largely flat. Current power purchase agreements for geothermal typically price power between $70/MWh and $100/MWh, but anticipated advances in drilling technology and resource exploration could drive that down to between $60/MWh and $70/MWh. At that level, DOE expects the technology would be cost-competitive with other energy sources and in line with a policy goal of $45/MWh by 2035.

Along with drilling improvements that would expand capacity to draw heat from new sites, permitting changes would help get projects online quicker. More pilots and demonstration projects are necessary to validate developments in varied technologies and to show how drilling advances can be applied across different sites.

The bulk of geothermal development will be in the western U.S., where subsurface heat is easier to access. Additional growth in future decades could occur in the Appalachian region — specifically Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia — and the southern states of Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

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