San Antonio Express-News

Commentary: Deep in the heart of Texas, an energy source is abundant

Cindy Taff, For the Express-News

March 12, 2022

Texas has long been known as “the energy state.”

I, and many others, have long supported an “all of the above” approach to energy development here. This has been fairly easy given the abundance of varied resources found within Texas. Yet one resource, geothermal energy, has not historically been widely considered, talked about or utilized. The time has come to embrace a new approach: “all of the above — and below.”

Besides providing heating and cooling directly to industrial, commercial and residential consumers, geothermal power is clean, renewable, reliable, dispatchable and baseload, and lies right below our feet. Owing to technological advances, geothermal energy is increasingly available and considered cost-effective in many areas of Texas and should become more of a focus for industry, policymakers and energy consumers.

Historically, geothermal energy production was limited to locations where very hot water or steam naturally came to, or close to, the surface: Indonesia, parts of Iceland and California. Research and development breakthroughs, honed with an extremely skilled workforce in the oil and gas industry, now allow us to drill for heat at depths far below the Earth’s surface.

Today, electricity is primarily made by burning fossil fuel to boil water, thereby producing steam, which then spins a turbine generator. Geothermal energy is similar to that process except that instead of burning fuel to generate steam, geothermal technologies tap directly into hot temperatures below the Earth’s surface.

Geothermal development has the potential to produce clean, abundant and reliable baseload energy while taking advantage of Texas’ oil and gas workforce. Yes, oil and gas production has hit records recently as a result of high prices in a global economy recovering from the pandemic; however, many of us understand the cyclic nature of the oil patch and the loss of jobs when prices are low. Geothermal energy can leverage the oil and gas workforce during ups and downs.

Texas is not immune to occasional energy challenges. During the week of Feb. 15, 2021, unusually cold weather caused more than 4.5 million people in Texas to lose power, some for many days. Hundreds of people died during this winter event, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas estimated between $80 billion and $130 billion in direct and indirect losses to the Texas economy.

According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and the North American Electric Reliability Corp., every type of energy resource — gas, coal, nuclear, wind, etc. — experienced a “forced outage” as a result of prolonged subfreezing weather. Because geothermal energy relies on the heat of the Earth, not the vagaries of Mother Nature, it has the potential to be an invaluable, reliable energy resource, especially during extreme weather events.

While Texas dabbled in geothermal energy about 30 years ago, recent technological advances have led to the development of new companies and alliances of companies. Given the excitement and potential for geothermal energy, the Texas Geothermal Alliance, or TxGEA, has recently launched to coordinate, educate and promote the development of geothermal energy, and its associated technologies, across our great state.

A forthcoming study due out this spring, “Future of Geothermal in Texas,” will inform TxGEA’s mission. The research report will provide a road map for progress for geothermal. Early results are promising, and the excitement around geothermal power in Texas is as hot as the energy we hope to capture.

With the crisis in Ukraine putting surging gas prices front and center, rapid advances in geothermal power can strengthen the Texas economy and help return America to energy independence.

Cindy Taff, a 36-year veteran of the oil and gas industry, serves as the chief operating officer of Sage Geosystems, a Texas-based geothermal energy company.