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Google invests over $10 million on geothermal energy
The Pipeline (CA)
August 19, 2008

You know the cachet of alternative energy is on the rise when Google makes an investment in it.

On Tuesday, the uber-cool U.S. Internet search engine company announced it would invest more than $10 million in geothermal energy technology as part of an effort announced last year to lower the cost of electricity from renewable sources.

Google's investment includes $6.25 million for Sausalito, Calif.-based EGS company AltaRock Energy Inc.

AltaRock's website prominently touts a research paper called The Future of Geothermal Energy — Impact of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) on the United States in the 21st Century. That 2007 study led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was assisted by Michal Moore with the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy at the University of Calgary.

The study estimated that with suitable investments and improvements to existing technology, EGS could supply up to 10 per cent of America's electricity needs within 50 years at prices competitive with fossil-fuel fired generation.

Moore recently completed a project to map subterranean hot spots in Alberta, using the province's extensive database compiled via the drilling of thousands of oil and gas wells.

The overall conclusion, he told the Herald, is that the technology would probably work but is in no way cost-effective because the wells have to be drilled far deeper than an average oil or gas well, to at least three or four kilometres, to find temperatures over 150 C. (Lots of wells these days reach those lengths but they tend to be horizontal wells, not straight down into the hard rock crust.)

The benefits of geothermal energy — clean, renewable baseload electricity available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with little or no CO2, not to mention steam to recover oilsands — make the effort worthwhile.

But it's telling that Google's $10 million is coming from its philanthropic arm, Google.org, because the technology that circulates water through hot rocks in the ground to produce steam to power a turbine is no money maker yet. It will take many more millions -- from investors and governments -- to making tapping the earth's core practical.

— Dan Healing, dhealing@theherald.canwest.com

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