Geothermal power plants work by circulating water through hot rock deep underground, then converting that heat energy into electricity at the surface. But traditionally, it’s only been possible to build economical facilities in regions where developers could drill down to porous, permeable hot rock at relatively low depths.
The nearly six-year-old Houston, Texas, startup is changing that by using hydraulic fracturing techniques—better known as fracking—to create or widen cracks below the surface, artificially creating the permeability that allows water to easily flow underground. In July, Fervo announced it had successfully completed tests at its pilot plant in northern Nevada, which the company says demonstrated the commercial viability of its technology.
- Industry: Geothermal energy
- Founded: 2017
- Headquarters: Houston, Texas, USA
- Notable fact: Fervo has raised nearly $190 million from Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, DCVC, Capricorn Investment Group, and others.
Potential for impact
Fervo’s enhanced geothermal approach promises to significantly expand the areas where we could tap into the carbon-free and nearly limitless source of energy beneath our feet. Geothermal offers the added advantage of generating electricity around the clock and calendar, making it an ideal clean source to fill in the gaps as grids increasingly come to rely on fluctuating renewables like solar and wind.
It could provide a much cheaper or less controversial way of fixing that fundamental challenge in cleaning up the grid than building giant battery plants or adding nuclear power reactors, respectively.
Fervo is developing an additional trick as well, tapping into the particular geological characteristic of enhanced geothermal wells to create systems that can store up energy for extended periods or easily ramp electricity up and down as needed. By pumping water into the wells but not releasing it, the company found it could build up pressure in the system, storing energy that can be used when it’s most needed, much like charging a battery. That could make the company’s future plants even more valuable to grid operators dealing with increasingly erratic and dynamic electricity systems.
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