A unique geothermal project is operating in Nevada, providing clean energy to power Google’s data centers. Google has teamed up with a startup called Fervo, which created innovative technology to capture geothermal power.
This project is smaller than typical geothermal plants, generating 3.5 megawatts of power. To give you an idea, one megawatt can meet the energy needs of about 750 homes. The electricity produced will be sent to the local grid serving two of Google’s data centers near Las Vegas and Reno.
Google’s New Geothermal Project for a Carbon-Free Future
As part of Google’s plan to use electricity without contributing to carbon pollution by 2030, they are working on incorporating more sources of clean energy. Geothermal energy is seen as a crucial element in the future mix of electricity, especially when wind and solar power may not be as reliable.
Michael Terrell, the senior director of energy and climate at Google, emphasizes the significant role that companies can play in advancing technologies like geothermal energy.
The project started in 2021, following Google’s announcement of the “world’s first corporate agreement to develop a next-generation geothermal power project.” Unlike typical geothermal plants that use hot fluids from natural reservoirs to create steam for turbines, this project is a more advanced version of geothermal energy.
This new project is located on the edges of an existing geothermal area, where, as Michael Terrell explains, “there’s hot rock, but there’s no fluid.” To produce geothermal energy there, Fervo had to drill two horizontal wells through which it circulates water.
Fervo directs cold water into fractures in the rock, warming it up to generate steam on the surface. It’s a closed-loop system, so the water is reused, which is crucial in a dry region like Nevada.
Fervo also included fiber optic cables in the wells to collect real-time data on the flow, temperature, and performance of its geothermal system. These methods are borrowed from the oil and gas industry to access energy resources that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Google’s Move into Geothermal Energy
According to Terrell, “This project excited us because it was already using existing technologies from the oil and gas sector.” He believes it has significant potential and can come online sooner rather than later. In addition to partnering with Google, Fervo has support for its technology from Bill Gates’ climate investment firm, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and the US Department of Energy.
Unlike wind and solar farms, which rely on specific weather conditions and time of day, geothermal projects can consistently generate electricity. This reliability is one of the reasons why Google is actively working to bring more geothermal projects online.
In September, Google announced a partnership with the nonprofit Project InnerSpace to address crucial challenges in geothermal development. This collaboration aims to create a global geothermal resource mapping and assessment tool, utilizing the strengths of both organizations.
Although Google hasn’t disclosed specific locations for future geothermal deployments for its data centers, the company is actively exploring opportunities. Data centers are known for their high electricity consumption, accounting for approximately 1 percent of global electricity usage.
Google’s innovative geothermal project in Nevada, a collaboration with Fervo, marks a step towards a cleaner energy future. With a capacity of 3.5 megawatts, it contributes to Google’s 2030 goal of using carbon-free electricity. The company’s commitment to geothermal, backed by partnerships and advancements, reflects a strategic move in diversifying and advancing clean energy technologies.