Friday, 8 August 2014

Nevada Power Plant First in the World to Tap into Hot Rocks

A US power plant in the state of Nevada, known for being among the first to try new technologies, is poised to become the first power plant to tap into hot rocks located well below the surface of the earth.  The Stillwater Geothermal / Solar Hybrid Plant is all set to deploy the geothermal portion of the revolutionary plant in a few weeks.  They are already generating electricity through a combined process that uses both solar thermal and solar collection.

Stillwater is owned and operated by Italy's Enel Green Power North America.  Enel has a reputation for investing in cutting-edge technologies for the purposes of producing green energy.  As for the Stillwater plant, it has been largely experimental since it first went online in 2009.  Enel shares data from the plant with a number of important US labs in a joint effort to produce more green energy initiatives.

Once online, the geothermal portion of the plant is expected to have a capacity of 33 MW.  The solar panel collectors and solar thermal generation already combine for a total of 28 MW.  Together, the three technologies will produce enough green energy to sustain the nearby town of Fallon.  Having said that, Fallon has a population of only 25,000 and that is engaged mostly in agricultural pursuits.

When engineers first set out to design and build the geothermal portion of Stillwater, they wanted to tap the region's known supply of hot lava rocks in a way that would have the least environmental impact possible.  A system was developed with two closed loops; one loop extracts hot water from geothermal wells and brings it to the surface, while the second uses a liquid with a low boiling point to extract heat from the water by way of the heat exchanger.  The closed loops allow the system to operate without adding anything to the ground or generating emissions.

The Perfect Environment

Stillwater is a state-of-the-art power generation plant that has been successful, in part, because of Nevada's natural environment.  In fact, Stillwater officials say Nevada is perfect for hosting both solar and geothermal projects.  We already know the desert region gets ample sunshine, but the area is also home to an incredibly large number of geothermal wells.

Nevada is so attractive that Apple built a new data centre in the northern portion of the state in order to take advantage of renewable energy potential.  In addition, there are now more than 45 energy projects under-way, capable of generating hundreds of thousands of megawatts of renewable power.  It looks like Nevada will eventually eclipse California as the centre of renewable power in the United States.

So far Enel has spent more than USD $75 million on research and development at the Stillwater plant.  We expect that the things they learn from the geothermal phase will carry through to other projects they have located in the US and are around the world.  Perhaps tapping lava rocks is just the beginning.

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