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Science & Research

How Idaho Could Become A Leader In Geothermal Energy

Idaho National Laboratory
Dr. Robert Podgorney at work in the Center For Advanced Energy Studies.

Idaho is one step closer to being a leader in geothermal energy. The Department of Energy (DOE) announced five states that will have the chance to compete for the opportunity to build a geothermal research lab, including Oregon and Nevada. In this first research phase out of three, Idaho will split $2 million with the four other states.

Robert Podgorney is doing everything he can to make sure Idaho is the home of this future research site. Podgorney is the lead geothermal scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory and the director of the Snake River Geothermal Consortium. 

“The story of heat in the ground and geothermal is quintessentially an Idaho story," he says. "If you look at the geologic history for parts of Idaho, it’s the story of fire and rock.”

Podgorney and his team are looking to answer a big question: how can they make geothermal energy portable? He says figuring this out will make it a lot easier for scientists to harness the energy trapped in rocks below the surface, and convert it to electricity. The scientist says Idaho's natural hot springs are a surface manifestation of the kind of geothermal activity they want to build pathways for deep below the ground.

He and his team think eastern Idaho is the perfect spot to figure out how and where to drill for geothermal activity. Estimates show the state could power more than 50 million homes across the United States.

“The basic idea is a two closed-loop system," Podgorney says. "Closed loop deep in the ground where we heat the water up, and a closed loop on the surface where we take the heat from the water and make electricity, and then we just complete the cycle.”

The scientist says unlike other forms of renewable energy, geothermal is a very reliable contributor to the power grid.

“What’s unique about geothermal is that it’s a very small footprint compared to the other renewables. And more importantly, it’s baseload power.”

Podgorney and his team will find out if their proposal makes it to the next phase sometime in 2016.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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