How Google Cash Helped Find Geothermal Energy in West Virginia

West Virginia geothermal map

Google has already spent a lot of money on renewable energy investments. Now the search giant can be credited with bringing green energy to a state that mostly relies on coal-fired power. A project from Southern Methodist University, funded by a $481,500 grant from Google.org, has found that West Virginia has 78% more geothermal energy than previously estimated. That means the state could double its electrical generation capacity without bringing more coal power online.

Now we know that West Virginia could produce up to 18,890 MW of clean energy if just two percent of its geothermal energy resources were used. The state currently has a generating capacity of 16,350 MW—and 97% of that comes from coal.

So what happens now? The study explains that there is still plenty of work to be done before drilling can begin:

Major gaps include low quality thermal data, potential errors in matching the thermal conductivity to the well lithology, and areas with little or no data coverage. Addressing these limitations will require measurement of equilibrium temperatures in wells in the thermal anomaly regions and specific matching of the geologic sections to the wells. In areas with low thermal data density, holes drilled specifically for heat flow might be necessary as part of the exploration stage of development.

But if drilling proves that the geothermal reserves are real, Google may just help give West Virginia the gift of a coal-free energy industry.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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