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Idaho competing for next generation geothermal research observatory

Imagine being able to power the computer or smart phone your reading on with the very ground you’re sitting or standing on. That’s what geothermal researchers are hoping to do at the Idaho National Laboratory, and they’re working toward it in the form of a competition.

“It’s called the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy program or FORGE program,” said Rob Podgorney, a geothermal researcher with the INL. “It’s a program the Department of Energy is sponsoring to essentially get the next generation of geothermal power systems.”

Eastern Idaho is one of five potential sites for the new geothermal field observatory location. In order to win the competition, Idaho must prove that it’s a good place to build the site. So far, Idaho checks all the boxes with strong public support, an educated work force, and the right kind of geography.

“What’s making Yellowstone Park such a beautiful feature today was here under our feet 6 to 8 million years ago,” said Podgorney. “So all the heat is still in the ground, but you don’t see it. So what we’re doing is finding a way to use that heat and generate electricity.”

The concept of generating electricity from geothermal power isn’t new. The entire country of Iceland gets a majority of their power from the Earth’s heat.

The difference with enhanced geothermal energy is the ability to do it almost anywhere, rather than using existing geysers or hot springs.

Researchers estimate the potential geothermal power available in Idaho is massive. “There are estimates that just for Idaho alone, with this enhanced geothermal system, we could generate anywhere from over 50 gigawatts of power,” said Podgorney.

To put that into perspective, one megawatt is enough to power around 1000 homes. A gigawatt is 1000 times bigger than megawatt. That means Idaho geothermal power could power upwards of 50 million american homes, if the estimates are correct.

The FORGE competition is still in its first round. Sometime in 2016 the Department of Energy will narrow the field of five possible locations to three and begin phase 2.

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