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Deep Under the West Virginia Coal, Geothermal Resource Beckons

State's underground temperature appears higher than previously thought.

1 min read
Deep Under the West Virginia Coal, Geothermal Resource Beckons

West Virginia isn't exactly known as the greenest state in the country, acting as ground zero for the fight over coal and mountaintop removal mining. A recent study shows, though, that the state sits atop a surprisingly bountiful renewable energy resource: heat.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University's Geothermal Laboratory found a potential geothermal energy resource in West Virginia of 18,890 megawatts, up substantially from previous estimates (that number assumes a two percent thermal recovery rate). There is enough heat underground to scale up to commercial-level plants, most likely. In fact, the researchers wrote that "The temperatures are high enough to make this the most attractive area for geothermal energy development in the eastern 1/3 of the country."

Concentrated mainly in the eastern part of West Virginia, the hot spots rise to more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit at depths of 15,000 feet. The discovery that commercial-scale geothermal plants could work in this area of the country comes as some surprise, as the technology more often depends on more tectonically active regions - like, say, Iceland (pictured) - to generate the necessary heat.

The US does already lead the way internationally in geothermal installations, with more than 3,000 MW [PDF] installed capacity. The vast bulk of that, though, is located in California and Nevada, with only a couple of plants anywhere near the eastern seaboard. If West Virginia's newfound resource proves commercially viable, it could bring yet another renewable technology to the table.

The study's authors agree on its potential importance: "The presence of a large, baseload, carbon neutral, and sustainable energy resource in West Virginia could make an important contribution to enhancing the U.S. energy security and for decreasing CO2emissions."

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

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