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Geothermal: A Baseolad Enabler for the Digital World

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Energy Global,

One would be hard pressed to find an industry today that is not actively working to decarbonise and participate in the global energy transition. While many may focus on wind, solar, and battery storage as possible replacements for fossil fuels, other solutions are often overlooked.

One such example is geothermal energy, which uses the vast energy of the Earth in the form of heat for power generation or heating and cooling. It has been used to generate power for nearly 100 years and counting, and Baker Hughes has been supporting this energy source in various capacities for nearly half that period.

Using the heat generated within the Earth means geothermal is always on, making it a baseload energy source. Unlike wind and solar, it is producing energy more than 95% of the time and is indifferent to the sun shining or the wind blowing. Its continuity and reliability of supply and availability are significant advantages. Consider too, most geothermal systems today generate zero carbon emissions and take up a fraction of the surface footprint compared to wind and solar generation sites.

There are barriers to developing geothermal, however; projects require high levels of up-front capital investment – typically between US$2 – US$7 million per well. Even though those costs can be recouped over the long term, operators and investors want a quick payout or to reduce costs and eliminate as many risks as possible. Developers and investors want assurance that the energy produced will be purchased if a geothermal plant is constructed. This is known as the offtaker.

Geothermal and the digital world

In the past few years, however, a new type of geothermal power offtaker is dawning on the horizon: datacentres and crypto farms. These differ from traditional power and heat purchasers due to both the massive volumes of energy required to run them and the nature of the facilities themselves. Here, geothermal is used as a zero-carbon fuel and enabler for the digital world. And the digital world is energy-hungry.

Large datacentres being planned today have power demands that can range up to 300 MW, or roughly the equivalent demand of 225 000 – 300 000 average households. Looking forward, the trend is to further leverage economies of scale and deploy even larger installations.

There are a number of operational datacenters and crypto mining facilities already using geothermal for their energy needs – some of which were developed with the support of Baker Hughes and its bespoke technology portfolio.

To continue reading this article from Energy Global's Winter 2022 issue, click here.

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