Study: California is a World Geothermal Leader

Salton Basin geothermal plant at night | Photo: Matthew Dillon/Flickr/Creative Commons License
A study of the global geothermal industry reveals that seismically active California is the global leader in generating power from the Earth's heat. With more than 50 active geothermal plants generating up to two gigawatts of power, California generates two thirds of the U.S.'s geothermal power, and has more geothermal capacity than any other country.


The Aruvians Research report, "Analyzing Geothermal Power in the U.S.," is a survey of American geothermal energy and the economic and regulatory worlds in which it operates.

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Geothermal has been growing quickly in the state. According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), California's geothermal sector has grown by 10% since 2007. The CEC estimates that using current technology, California's geothermal potential runs at about 4,000 megawatts.


On a day-to-day basis, geothermal's actual contribution to California's power diet runs at about 900 megawatts, according to the California Independent System Operator. That works out to just under 21,000 megawatt-hours in the course of a day, around 3% of the state's power consumption.

Geothermal isn't without its problems. Geothermal water contains dissolved solids and gases that can be toxic, including heavy metals and hydrogen sulfide gas. Geothermal that relies on native groundwater can have a finite lifespan. California's first geothermal facility, The Geysers north of Napa Valley, has been declining in output since the late 1980s as the aquifer below is depleted.

But some geothermal resources seem to be growing. On Wednesday, Imperial County's Planning Commission approved an expansion of a geothermal plant in Heber. The plant, owned by Ormat, sells up to 92 megawatts of power to Southern California Edison and the Southern California Public Power Authority. The additional four wells approved by the Planning Commission would boost that capacity by around 10 megawatts.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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