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⚡ The Forgotten Renewable

Watt It Takes

Photo by Hannah Wright / Unsplash

Host: Emily Kirsch
Guest: Tim Latimer | Co-Founder & CEO | Fervo Energy
Category: ⚡ Renewable Energy

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:28] “It's our ambition to scale geothermal power as a carbon free resource that goes well beyond what geothermal has been able to do to date. And really contribute to a 100% carbon free energy grid.”

[3:52] “Geothermal is a unique resource. It's been around for […] over 100 years, [when] the first geothermal power plant [was built]. But historically, it's been really limited to specific geographies, places like Iceland, or Kenya, or Northern California. And so even though it's meaningful in those different economies, it has not really broken out the same way that other energy resources have to have a truly global impact. But if we can scale it using new technology and new policies, it can be one of the solutions that gets us to that fully decarbonized electric sector, which is really what we need. And if successful, geothermal actually does have the potential to be as much as that 20% of the electricity sector that will actually let us get the full way there to total decarbonisation.

[19:22] “There was a lot of enthusiasm in geothermal in the late 2000s, and there was investment interest that went into it. And there were actually some very meaningful successes from that time period, both commercially and technically. But when you compare it to the success that other clean energy technologies like solar and electric vehicles and batteries had coming out of that time period, geothermal was never quite there. And so a lot of people adopted a mentality of being there done that no need to look at geothermal again. And a lot of people had not started looking at this deep decarbonisation to say, what other technologies do we need or what compliments do we need? And I think there was just such enthusiasm around the solutions that did work that it was difficult to get more. And so there weren't that many people investing in climate technologies at that point in time.”

[25:42] “Geothermal […] is about identifying places that are geologically suitable for geothermal development, which typically means that you have elevated geologic temperatures driven by faulting or volcanic activity or elsewhere that you can drill into and pump cold water down injection wells, have it heat up in the geothermal reservoir and then return to the surface as steam. And you can capture that steam to create electricity. And since you're using the natural heat of the earth to power your turbines at the surface, there's no emissions associated with geothermal development.”

[26:22] “What we've seen as the industry has tried to expand beyond just these less than ideal geologic locations, it's been very challenging for technology and cost to keep up. And the biggest barrier is actually what we call dry hole risk. Not everywhere that you drill successfully. And these wells can cost $5 million or more to drill. And so if you're in a competitive sector, like power, and you're funding a bunch of $5 million plus projects that go nowhere, you're not really going to compete for very long. And so if geothermal is going to be successful, we have to be a lot more repeatable in our development.

[26:57] “What Fervo has developed is […] inspired by my time in the oil and gas industry with the Shell revolution, [which] is a suite of technologies that makes that development process a lot more predictable. And there's a lot of different innovations we've worked on. But probably some of the high level ones is […] drilling horizontally, which is something that the oil and gas industry has gotten very good over the last 15 years. So a traditional geothermal well is drilled mostly vertically, you've got an eight inch hole that you put 8,000 feet down in the ground, and you hope that you find enough resources there to support geothermal development. But that's a very hit or miss proposition […]. So if you can instead go down 8,000 feet, and then turn horizontally and drill for another 5,000 feet or 10,000 feet, the likelihood that that well ends up being productive goes up tremendously. […] And then there's other things about more sophisticated data acquisition. So one of the things we've worked on for a while is the use of distributed fiber optic sensing in a downhole environment. So you can actually measure with precision where that flow is going, what the pressure changes, and create a map of the subsurface that actually allows for a lot more optimization and has been previously around. So this is just a couple examples. But ultimately, what Fervo does is we combine these technologies in a way that allows our success rate and drilling to be much higher […]. So we can go and develop new places that used to be hit or miss. And we can just be a lot more consistent about that. And that ends up translating to a much lower cost and much larger resource base than just conventional geothermal development.”

[29:39] “Geothermal has a really strong attribute among renewable energy resources in that it works 24/7. And what we find is that as we try to push beyond to deeper levels of decarbonisation, that actually matters more. So if you think about the most ambitious climate targets and renewable portfolio standards in the US, going back a few years ago, they were all 20% or 33% […]. But then solar and wind got so cheap that we were able to meet those targets. And at those levels, it doesn't really matter when you're producing because you can absorb that energy generation and hit a 20% target with a variable renewable energy resource. But whenever you start talking about bills, like […] in California, that not only establishes a 100% target for 2045, but a 60% target for 2030. That requires you to decarbonize not just daytime hours, but nighttime hours. And not just summer, but winter as well. And obviously, batteries are going to be very meaningful in that, but what grid modelers show again and again, is that you have to have something that works in that 24/7 role. So our role on the grid is providing that backbone, that flexibility, that always in nature from a carbon free resource that really helps underpin a lot of the accomplishments from other carbon free energy resources to actually generate a low cost system that is fully decarbonized.

[37:23] “If you think about energy technologies or really any technology, a lot of them exist for a very long time before they really have their breakout moment. And having your breakout moment requires a confluence of policy and market and technology factors that are really hard to line up. And we think we're there for geothermal now. We're calling the 2020s the geothermal decade, because we see these three factors: policy, finance, and market and then technology lineup for the first time in a long time.

[52:04] “Our ambition is [that] people say, renewable energy: solar, wind, and geothermal. And I want us to be so successful in proving out that geothermal is effective, that geothermal has a unique attribute to the grid, that we're not the forgotten renewable anymore. And I think in five years, if we can realize that, then I think everyone will realize that total 100% decarbonisation is a lot closer in our sights than we thought, because there's just a wider set of tools to get there. And I think if we've led that charge at Fervo that would be our wildest ambition to make that a reality.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify (Original Title: "Fervo Energy Co-Founder & CEO Tim Latimer")
🕰️ 1 hr | 🗓️ 12/07/2021
✅ Time saved: 58 min

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