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Gentilly-2 Refurbishment s'il vous plait

Mark Nelson

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Chris Keefer  0:00  

A warm welcome back to decouple. Today I'm joined by fan favorites, and multiple returning guests to Mark Nelson, for an exciting episode, looking at this breakthrough, potentially in enhanced geothermal. Mark, thank you so much for coming on at very short notice. I like to sort of keep abreast of breaking news, while steering clear of the hype train at times. But I really do appreciate you taking probably only about five days to sort of deep dive this. You know, as I think some of our listeners understand from your natural gas masterclass, you're no stranger to the world of fracking. And I think there's some, you know, we're talking essentially with enhanced geothermal about fracking for heat instead of OMG. So, Mark, thank you again, for making the time and for coming back on decouple. You bet, Chris. So catch us up mark, big announcement out of Northern Nevada company called Furbo, claiming a breakthrough with enhanced geothermal. Take us away. Tell us about the announcement. And I think in terms of how we're going to lay this out, we're going to make some comparisons help our listeners understand the differences between traditional and enhanced, and we got a lot to dive into. So read the start line and just find the pistol. Go ahead, Mark.


Mark Nelson  1:22  

Sure, Chris. Well, good to be back. And I'm here in Germany, a country that may end up being interesting geothermal, not because they have all that much hot rocks, they've got a little bit but because they have reduced the other options available to themselves. So that's always a big theme. Sometimes when you have a resource, or an energy type that hasn't taken off, it may only require artificially limiting other options to give it the push that it needs. Now, of course, adding new technology can help and modifying the grid in ways that lead to a sudden need for what a novel energy source has to offer as another way to get some growth. So we'll see if those apply in this case. So first of all, I think most people know that the Earth has a hot molten center. This hot molten center is spinning, and it is giving off heat from its original amount of heat from when the earth was formed. And it's that heat has nowhere to go. But up. So the earth's core is radiating is sending heat up to the slightly gooey layer, the mantle, and on top of the mantle is sitting the Earth's crust. So in our uranium masterclass, we mentioned that a great amount of the earth decay heat is indeed coming from the mantle and the radioactive elements decaying in both it and the even higher amounts coming from the tiny candy crust of the earth itself. So that continents and the seabed are all part of a crust around the mantle. So approximately, I guess you could say about 20% of the Earth's heat that is arriving at the surface of the planet is coming from heat that's coming from that the core itself. And then the other 80% is going to be coming from the mantel and across from radioactive decay and then bit from the squeezing and bending tidal forces of the earth going around the sun and having the moon go around it sort of like a fruit that's being squeezed and on squeezed, putting off just a little bit of energy that way. So we've got about 80% of the heat coming from that last little bit of layer, and then about 20% coming from the core itself. When you're on the surface, that surface of the Earth, you go down just a little bit and you get sort of that that heat is coming out. So you might think that this is good. Let's get that heat and make something with it. I still remember a day in environmental progress when sort of a burned out, hippie came to our door and insisted that there was a conspiracy to stop people from just harvesting free energy from hot rocks, and the desert. He's like those rocks gets so hot. And if we could just get the energy out of him, then we'd all have enough energy, which is one of those fun things that you hear when people want to explain why you don't need nuclear That's so dangerous. You can just take heat and turn it into energy. Well, Chris, we haven't done a masterclass on thermodynamics, but I think we probably have a number of listeners that are aware that it's not enough for there just to be some heat or some temperature difference between a hot thing and a cold thing. That temperature difference if it's not large, is very difficult to get useful work out of. In fact, a lot of hate comes on to nuclear plants for putting out waste heat. That waste heat is really good heat by the have standards of geothermal heat temperatures that you'd find in the top bit of the Earth's crust, it is very good heat compared to even digging down further than you'd ever be able to dig a hole without drilling equipment. And yet, that's considered waste heat for nuclear, that's not suddenly better heat, when you just call it geothermal. With one exception that we'll come back to, I really have always loved that little bit of geothermal heat that you can access using a heat pump. And I think it's a very clever way to bring more geothermal heat useful work into our lives. But we'll save that for a bit. So we've got this problem where just because there is he coming out of the Earth's surface, you're not going to get the temperatures you need right at the surface, which had been, you know, sort of cooled from the interaction between space and you know, the atmosphere and the water and the oceans and the biosphere, that little bitty layer that's cooled right at the edge, that kind of stays in balance between what's out there, and what's down there. That that balance is nice. It's what makes the pleasant caves where you go in and it's cool year round, if you're coming in from a hot climate or, or you could say warm year round if you come in out of the cold. I've been in a one of the early most famous caves to be discovered to have hosted ultra long term human habitation chatter cave in southwest England, that gives us cheddar cheese. Why did cheddar cheese come from cheddar gorge and the cheddar caves along with the body of the cheddar man that was found preserved in there because it keeps a steady temperature that helps you ate your cheese and be calm. As we mentioned, another podcast episodes, the true energy storage tool of the of the cheese lover, you know, you put the sun and the grass and the grass and the cow and the cow gives you milk and the milk goes and cheese and the cheese goes into cheddar cave and then that constant temperature helps provide you but this is not this is not good enough to harvest using a heat engine like a steam turbine would at a coal plant or a nuclear plant for that you've got to go deeper. How deep well estimates I've seen is that the ideal debt for extracting heat not like ideal for maximum economic efficiency, or what you'd be able to do with equipment we have today. But just for pulling out the maximum amount of energy for human society would be 1011 12 kilometers down, that's down there with some of the most extreme experimental wells ever attempted. Just for comparison, this breakthrough announcement that I still haven't covered because I wanted this background that's dealing with for vo energy wells that are down at 7700 feet, or for those in the poor metric world out there, I feel bad for you. But that's about 2.3 kilometers down, so 2.3 kilometers down, as opposed to say the 11 or 12 kilometers that would allow you to extract the maximum amount of heat that's still replenished from the rock around you and the earth below you without running out over long periods of time. Now my favorite energy expert, former, the late Dr. David JC Mackay of Cambridge University, did his own calculation found about 11 or 12 kilometers was that depth that you would be able to sustainably harvest the maximum amount of heat, if you were if and that if you took that over the entire Earth land surface area. Either using lots of wells vertically, or the breakthrough technology that we'll talk about with Provo and go horizontally, you would extract about 10 kilowatt days per person. So that is a little bit of an issue, or 10 kilowatt days per person per year. That's a little bit of an issue because just the energy, the energy needed to say on power, European lifestyles today is about 100 110 120 kilowatt hours per person per day. But of course, Europe has a pretty high population density. So that's not that gives you a little bit of the idea that problem. This is going to be a hotspot energy source, maybe not so much that we only have to use like right next to volcanoes or we have to use Iceland or we have to use what nature has provided us for existing geothermal and we'll go into that you may be able to use advanced geothermal, but just on an energy balance of sustainably taking the Earth's energy and bringing it up to the surface to use for human civilization. Converting that heat into electricity is going to it's not going to be the bulk of our energy needs ever. But it may provide some extremely useful some extremely valid Double energy services that are needed to patch up holes with other energy sources or make best use of existing equipment, people property rights, even in a country like America.


Chris Keefer  10:12  

Sure, sure. Okay, that's that's an amazing sort of viewpoint through which to see the geology and to get a whiff of the technology. I mean, obviously, what's what's drawn me to want to cover this is the way in which it's being talked about. And, you know, this is potentially a panacea, potentially a breakthrough. I mean, I've heard people say that this redeems fracking. You know, it's it's basically fracking without the oil and gas, but the same energy. And obviously, it's a different energy quality, it's not something that's going to be a transportable, you know, liquid hydrocarbon that can power mobility across the planet of people and goods. But it is something that's still quite promising. Obviously, it's also been positioned by folks on the anti nuclear side as being something that's going to make nuclear irrelevant by providing very similar services to nuclear without the radioactive hangups. So we got a lot to unpack there, I just wanted to see that. But before we do, I think you've you've planted that seed of, of this, really talking about what's new here, you know, from my understanding what you need for G right? Well, and what's not rocks, permeable rocks, and you need and you need water, and you need some kind of fluid. And what this announcement does, is it allows us to tap into the hot dry rocks, which store something like 98% of the heat and in the in the mantle, or the crust. So let's go ahead and handle what is it.


Mark Nelson  11:28  

Let's go ahead and explain the difference between the hot dry rocks you just mentioned. And the what you might call the traditional geothermal, traditional geothermal is when water in the earth comes in, comes into contact with enough hot rock to itself get hot, and either come to the surface as hot water, or to be brought to the surface by us, which either can then flash into steam at the lower pressure of the surface, or be used to heat up other things, equipment, to heat up facilities that use that heat directly. In general, the heat that you're getting is not going to be at the temperatures that you achieve. And right next to the ultra hot gases of a burning coal plant, or the ultra high pressure, flowing water and steam of a nuclear plant. So your thermodynamic efficiency, that is how much of the bouncing of the chaotic bouncing of the heat molecules, or the hot molecules in the water, you're turning into the electricity, that's going to be lower. But as long as we don't get hung up on that waste heat, and we focus on the valuable, highly ordered energy you get when you put steam through a turbine, then I think that that's that's a better point of view. Of course, I think that's a better point of view for nuclear too. But I don't really hear many people complaining about the waste heat from other things. And similarly, we shouldn't complain about the 10 to 15% efficiency of mini geothermal systems. So the breakthrough at Furbo and Ebor and a few of these other companies is that they're taking the


abilities we've gained to drill sideways to take a well go down, turn precisely where you want, and to go sideways or horizontally exactly through the rock formation you want. And to use a single spot on the surface of the Earth. To do many of these and to go over long area, you can sort of make like a big radiator array in the Earth's crust, what they're doing is putting uh, well to send water down their water, some you know fluids that they intend to pick up the heat of the earth, they want to send the fluid down, then they're going to drill another well that they're going to bring it back up and down in the hole itself, they're going to have long horizontal pipes, and to send the water or the working fluid that carries the heat, they're going to send this stuff down there, and it's going to travel from one of the pipes, that puts it down to the other pipe to bring it back up. Some people are planning a closed loop system where whatever they send down, they just send down to get hot, it comes up and it transfers its heat. Like at a like the steam generators at a nuclear plant. It just transfers its heat before being pushed back down in the earth. And then that heat transfer, that's what would make the steam to run the turbine. Other people are proposing that you use water directly and power your devices with it through turbines. So in this case, the fracking that people are talking about is that it may be that you want heat out of rock that doesn't have much pore space that you want the rock broken up so more water can transfer heat and flow through a larger distance through the hot rock to the other side and be sucked back. Topic. Now in fracking for oil and gas wells, it's important to put down the proppant, that little the fluid filled with little beads that would then keep the layers of the rock open. So that gas can flow out between that in advance your thermal, you're not going to be putting that stuff into the ground. So whether that's enough for the geothermal folks to say, No, this isn't fracking, it's not the same. And also, we're not connected to oil and gas generation. So you shouldn't think even if we are fracturing the rock, you shouldn't use that for fracking with this, because that's used as a hit job on oil and gas. So you shouldn't use it on us. We'll see. I've said recently on Twitter, that energy policy is a game of memes. Will people say fracking, fracking, fracking to attack geothermal, I don't know. I don't have a problem with fracking as fracking. So I, I wouldn't be the one to try to make any hay out of that. But there is one thing that will have to be squared away. And this is one where I can tell the first negative story I've ever said about my dad on any of these podcasts. And I've done an entire podcast about what I've learned from my dad and the incredible ways taught me to work and see the world. So my dad's a petroleum engineer. And back in 2014 15, when the fracking boom was going on in Oklahoma, and he wasn't out there drilling wells. So he was just almost a bystander to some of this. there started to be earthquakes. And they got up to mid to high five, fives on the Richter scale. So that's starting to be a pretty good shape that can do some real damage, maybe get close to to killing an unlucky person who's standing by a loose rock or brick wall. So Oklahoma starts getting rocked by these worth earthquakes, and he was adamant this couldn't be from from fracking. He didn't see how it could be just didn't make sense. It smelled wrong to him. Turned out that yes, yes, it was, but it was not from the fracking itself. It was from water coming up. And fracking fluid, the waste, liquid wastes from these wells that wasn't needed for the for making oil and gas that was being reinjected at around the height in the Earth's crust that that ferbos looking to work maybe a little bit more shallow. And this water and work these fluids being pumped back into disposal wells. And a lot of this is just saltwater from the ancient seas. And that would that would have given us the diet dichotomous life that turned into the oil and gas which we'll talk about when we do our oil class. But it it would have come with a salt water that upon being reinjected lubricated, Fault Lines, often and inactive fault lines because Oklahoma's not exactly known for its earthquakes that would then cause this, this you know, you heat up, you basically heat up and lubricate make this crack really slippery. And then bam, you started having earthquakes all over the state. This is not the same thing as say, for example, the earthquakes and subsidence that led to the closure this year of Europe's biggest gas field and granite in the Netherlands that was issues with subsidence I believe. But in this case, it was enough to lead to changes to how well operators were allowed to re inject wastewater. Now, this advanced geo thermal that we've said is you're literally fracking and then putting water down in rock formations. So as somebody who is upset when nuclear is treated unfairly, and said that you can't, you can't insure it. And what if there's an earthquake? Well, we've definitely got to look and make sure that our advanced geothermal is not causing earthquakes. I'm adamant that there will be ways to avoid this. But several of the advanced geothermal testing facilities in the world have accidentally caused earthquakes that have led to their close. So for example, one in basil Switzerland was closed for causing this and certainly even on a small scale, when you're messing around with hot water under pressure in the earth below your feet. You are playing a bit of a game, not just because in some of the traditional geothermal, you're bringing up hot water that's dissolved. Well, various minerals, toxic and non toxic and bringing it to the surface. That's a little bit of an issue. But also I recently heard of a case right here in Germany right now. In fact, just across the river from fastened on nuclear plant that the Germans demanded get closed because they thought it would got witches in it or it's got bad juju or whatever the Germans think about nuclear they needed to close because it's a danger. There was a town just across the river from the plant that did a geothermal project for heating their town center. And they act, they accidentally let water into a rock formation. That's that's takes in water and turns into a different mineral and inflates almost like a sponge, and it inflated under their town, it started raising their town in ways that are cracking and breaking the walls. And people are irritated and trying to figure out who to blame and what to do about it. And although this is almost a funny example, because you know how it gets the Germans back a little bit for being so crazy on energy. It's a good example, if you're putting water down into the earth contract, my dear father's assumption, you can modify how the earth acts. And it can be something bad like earthquakes, or it can be something simpler and a little bit more subtle, which is cooling off the patch of earth near your wells, and near your power plant, and actually mining unsustainably the heat resource because what may be sustainable for the earth as a whole is, in other words, the heat is going to be coming out of the earth for quite some time may not be true of this specific spot, you have just as the great insulating qualities of the Earth, protect your cheese and cheddar gorge and let you keep the right temperatures cool, not too cool, not too warm. So you can have your heavier aged cheese product just right. You also have insulating properties of the earth down at these geothermal plants that don't let heat come fast enough compared to your ability to extract it. This is a problem that I think advanced geothermal is one of the ways of addressing by having a single spot that instead of sucking from a straw from one single vertical, you're gathering up heat from a much bigger area around the plant and bringing it up to one location where you, you could say get the concentrated value of that heat and you're able to turn it into power.


Chris Keefer  21:58  

Okay, so just just to summarize here in terms of what the breakthrough is, we're talking about leveraging fracking technology. So that geothermal becomes decoupled from the few sort of geographically Viable Places where it's been confined to like Iceland, as parts of California understand, basically active tectonic areas. So leveraging that fracking technology to tap into hot, dry rocks. And again, the kind of promise here is that this means that it can be available anywhere in the world, essentially, I'm sure there's going to be some proposals there. So I wanted to just make sure right,


Mark Nelson  22:29  

well, even in even in Iceland, Iceland's getting on a per capita basis, I had mentioned the technical potential of the globe, but roughly 10 kilowatt hours per person, per, per day. Well, you've got, you've got about double that already existing in Iceland. So not that Iceland's a densely populated island, it's just you've got the the sort of the hotspot of geothermal in the world, supporting industries, like their aluminum industry, and it's about 20 kilowatt hours per person per day.


Chris Keefer  23:04  

No, and I mean, when looking at electricity map, and trying to get a sense around Iceland, I was surprised that it wasn't majority geothermal, it actually is majority hydro, I think maybe 20 30%, geothermal and 60 70%. Hydro. So that's interesting in and of itself, that, you know, just because it's in this, you know, sweet spot for geothermal, it's not the dominant source of energy there, maybe that suggests some, some limitations or that, you know, it's easy to hype up any technology, nuclear included. You know, and I know certain nuclear advocates sort of claim that we'd be able to power the entire world through some massive global Mesmer plan. I think any kind of panacea thinking is a little bit dangerous, but again, wanting to bring to myself in my listenership a nuanced perspective on this. Just one other question I wanted to follow up on, you're talking about thermodynamic efficiency and this heat, I wanted to get a sense of the heat quality, the, the the temperature of the steam produced, you mentioned going down 15 kilometers, you get into the really hot stuff, how many degrees C are we talking about? And how does that impact? It's not just the kind of power density but the thermodynamics of the power quality you can get out. You know, we're gonna be able to get electricity, we're going to get the district heating with this stuff. I'm guessing not, you know, process heat for industry or anything like that.


Mark Nelson  24:14  

No, unless what you're doing for your process heat is you're taking electricity and just using that to make extremely hot heat, which is, you know, a little bit late, wasteful, you're losing between 80 and 90% of that heat of the of the geothermal heat that you're getting, and you're turning that into 10 to 20%. of that quantity of electricity, which of course is a very useful it's the it's the most flexible of energy sources you could set you can say if you already have the electricity in terms of the grade Well, electricity kind of comes in one grade I think you may have been Is it constant Iran, right? Well, true, should tell us something that at least for traditional geothermal, other power sources in the world today, I believe the capacity factor is on the order of 40 3040 50%. For a lot of facilities, what that may mean is that, in the old style, when you aren't taking in as much of the heat from the surrounding area, and you're, you're using even at spicy hotspot, you're going to be harvesting heat fast enough at any usable or commercially effective size of powerplant, you're going to be harvesting the heat fast enough that you can only go in bursts or spurts. So that is not really cumulative. They know what


Chris Keefer  25:37  

you're just letting the heat re accumulate in the rocks, not exhausting the resource, which means that it's not necessarily a baseload, it's a dispatchable form of power, which is attractive, again, to potentially balancing an intermittent system.


Mark Nelson  25:48  

Well, it depends on how you size it, if you have a tiny little generator, maybe you can run that baseload for a few centuries without exhausting your local heat resource, right? If you want it larger, and it's only worth doing if you can build a proper chunky boy up top and then connect it with some decent wires or you have a have a big grid hookup, it may make sense to extract the heat faster than you could continuously extract and have to wait and let it build up. Again, in terms of temperatures where you'd have to dig a bit before you get to boiling temperatures for water at standard at atmospheric pressure, which of course wouldn't be boiling temperatures down below. As you go down further, you ultimately get deep enough in the mantle that you're kind of stay at about 1400 degrees C for quite a while, we're not going to get to there, we're not going to get 10s of kilometers down to where we get the really hot temperatures that people are chasing and say high temperature nuclear reactors are that are regularly achieved in fossil fuel is achieved and exceeded and fossil fuel plants. So that's not going to happen, what you'd be looking for is between 100 and say 150 175 degrees, see, if we're if that's the range that I could see even deep drilling technology, getting to work with at which point you're the efficiency of a steam turbine with that as the heat source for the steam is going to be down in that low 10 to 20% range, even good equipment, which again, is okay, as long as you have a valuable use for the power exactly when you need it. Or you can accept a lower constant power output.


Chris Keefer  27:29  

It's interesting, because this is kind of defying a lot of my admittedly rather simplistic thinking about things like power density and land use, I mean, the surface footprint is going to be fairly small. But then when you think about the land use footprint of seismicity, then that becomes potentially a large footprint in terms of cracking foundations and buildings and things like that, in terms of the power density of the resource. You know, that's limited clearly. But you can through fracturing, create a think quite a large bed, you know, in terms of questions of water use, I'd be interested in understanding that better, you know, a closed loop system, probably there's going to be less an open loop system. You know, there's a lot of nuances here. And of course, when you get a shiny press release, a lot of stuff doesn't factor in, which is why I wanted to get you on not just to try and sort of like privilege nuclear. And I don't want to I don't want to play these kinds of ideologic games. I think there's a really exciting role for this technology. But I do want to understand it in a more nuanced level. So maybe, maybe, yeah. And


Mark Nelson  28:19  

look, Chris, as you mentioned, I had a few days to study up on geothermal that may make it cheeky to have an episode called geothermal masterclass. In this case, what I think is, my contribution is that, and on one level, it's just a source of heat. And then the rest is standard mechanical engineering of using that for a power plant. Then there's a little bit of it that is overlapping with just family history and oil and gas and growing up hearing about wells and going through this process of my, my dear father insisting that it wouldn't have been wouldn't have been his industry causing the earthquakes and turning out it actually was his industry. So there's I'm adding to that new information from from recent things. But the sense of this, the synthesis is almost certainly going to be broad enough that you will have room for if they're interested in coming and saying, This is where we see our technology going. This is where we see our LC OE levelized cost of electricity. No, we want to we want absolute baseload, or no, we want a peaking system. And here's where we think it's going to take off and they may be able to come and tell you more about what they intend to do in terms of their water. Are they going to take water, say out of the ground and aquifers in the deserts of Nevada, are they going to use that and run into the same water issues that might play a nuclear plant? Because in the end, Chris, if you have lower maximum temperatures, then you're going to go through more potential loss of water from from water vapor evaporating to cool off your equipment. than you would, if you had higher temperatures, you're going that's the efficiency argument. But there are natural gas combined cycle plants all over the West that somehow managed to do just fine using water and for the water portion of their cycle. So I assume you can design these plants to maybe have a little bit less overall efficiency in exchange for or how about this a little bit lower output in exchange for losing less water to dry climates. And I think there'll be room for, for the people behind these breakthrough systems to come and explain that you might call it the the bowl case that the promoters case for the technology, what I want to do is at least just position it as versus you know, size it up versus our overall energy needs in society, and where I would be excited to see their, their pitch for what this is going to do for us. And that's gets us to something very interesting. All the material I've seen so far on the pitch for why this works, in terms of part of the energy mix. sounds suspiciously like a pitch for nuclear. And so I've been actually a big fan of these geothermal efforts. Because one, I think that we've learned a lot about how not to cause earthquakes. And there's going to be progress there. And too, because I've just love seeing new technology. I really don't. I really do. I like to get hype about new breakthroughs. I don't like actually being the stinker. It's my least favorite sort of tweet to go viral if I'm Pooh poohing somebody's cool breakthrough. But I do have to say, this looks like something that's going to make a lot of arguments easier for anyone who likes nuclear energy. Just recently, Lee, Dr. Jesse Jenkins had a speech, I believe it was and it was somewhere on the East Coast. It was a big big conference where he made the argument that sometimes it's more expensive to add cheap solar than it is to add expensive geothermal. So that's already claiming expensive geothermal admitting it is going to be more expensive than at least the the naive costs of adding solar and a lot of the rich world. But why did he say that? He said it. Because when you can create energy, and if you know, you can deliver it at a certain hour, especially when other power plants can't deliver it in that hour, you sharply raise the value of your product in an energy system that's dealing with insufficient control over its own energy flows. And that is an argument I know that nuclear advocates like you and I have been making for some time.


Chris Keefer  32:49  

We I mean, you coined this term, I believe, wind and solar an expensive sorry, a cheap way to make expensive electricity. Nuclear is an expensive way to make cheap electricity. And I think that that's a great sort of summary. I borrowed that liberally. You know, so one of the thoughts around enhanced geothermal is that it will eat nucleus lunch, yes, you know it, you can play some of the same arguments. But hey, this is a kinder, gentler, softer, friendlier form of energy that provides a lot of the services plus maybe being a little bit more flexible. I know that Germany, for instance, was able to run their plants quite flexibly, but potentially more economic to just keep it going running as baseload and we talked about some of the differences and why geothermal might require not being in baseload, just to not exhaust the thermal resource that they're tapping into. I mean, why would only eat nuclear lunch is an interesting question. As you mentioned, there's not enough of it to meet all of our power needs. But why are we building wind and solar, if we have a dispatchable form of you know, low carbon energy that we could just sort of have on reserve in the form of geothermal? You know, it could eat it could eat renewables lunch, as well. But also, I'm just tantalized by this idea of like, well, because there's this big challenge, right with running nuclear does a great job run and get baseload. There is some ability to load fall, but not not a great sort of peaking resource. So nuclear and natural gas might parallel nuclear batteries, pumped storage. We've talked about that in the past pump storage batteries. Pretty expensive, right? But what about nuclear plus geothermal for peaking services? Wouldn't that be just kind of the ultimate? I've got it? I've got a


Mark Nelson  34:14  

schedule. I've got an idea come up, just as you phrase your question, so excited. I couldn't even let you finish. Why don't we co locate advanced geothermal and nuclear and we just pumped the nuclear waste heat down into the earth to heat back up the rock that's cooling off from the advanced geothermal. I'm only joking a little bit. I guess part of the joke here is that


Chris Keefer  34:38  

bring on the earthquakes under the nuke plants mark.


Mark Nelson  34:41  

Look, we will have solved that problem. Okay, and anyway, that the nuke plants are built tough enough to deal with it. It's other people's homes that might not be tough enough. There has never been a seismic induced seismicity event and that's the phrase people use induced seismicity for us humans doing something to mess with the ground enough that it has an earthquake. So for example, hydroelectricity has induced seismicity problem to not just vulnerability to earthquakes, but storing up enough water weight to cause earthquakes. So this is not there, there are several clean energy technologies that are going to have this issue, Chris, it's not just geothermal. And I think that geothermal is going to find ways to deal with this. And also, I think there are going to be people who accept some amount of risk, because they're just used to accepting risk and parts of their lives for things they want. And I think we're going to have some of that and geothermal too. But what I was going to say is, it's, I don't, I'm mostly joking about using the waste heat from nuclear to reheat up the rocks. But that's effectively kind of weirdly what you're sort of talking about with a district heating reactor, you're taking heat that's really Low to low level to make electricity with. And you're just sending that, those that out around to multiple houses, which by the way, I think brings us in our conversation to my favorite geothermal energy, which is heat pumps, ground source heat pumps. Hit me with it, let's do it. Sure. So a heat pump is when you use electricity, ideally, from a nuclear plant, to run a pump that circulates a working fluid down into the Earth's crust. Only a little bit, of course, maybe just right below your house. And it takes it gathers up heat from that Earth and shoves it into your apartment or your home. It's very clever. And it's I think, I've noticed that there are lots of concepts that with care, you can explain to people, Heat pumps are a little weird, because you can try to say, well, it's like reversed air conditioning. But that kind of some people can stumble on that. And that, then they ask Wait, then what's the well, for well reverse air conditioning, as a as an explanation probably works better for air source heat pumps, case of ground source heat pumps, what's happening is you're using high grade energy from electricity to do a very specific task, turn compressor blades, that causes pressure changes, that can compress a fluid. And then that allows you to store heat from one place and move it to another. So in the case of heat pumps, you're taking that say, I'm trying to use see here, let's say you're taking 15 or 16 degrees C heat from the earth, and you're moving it into a pipe until you get a working fluid, nice and nice and warm with it. And you're taking that heat in and putting it into your house, the energy you're putting in is to run the compressor and to circulate the fluid down. And you're not making that much of the heat itself, your moment tiny bit of the heat. And that's just the inefficiency of your compressor and the friction of your system, what you're really doing here is that you're taking heat from the earth, pressing it together and pushing it into your house. And in that case, you can use say, one unit of electricity to concentrate move and put into your house three or even four units of electricity, I believe that very, most efficient systems are getting above four 4x. So that means you're regaining plus some all the waste heat lost in the creation of that electricity in the first place from a nuclear plant. If you were using that electricity from advanced geothermal to run a ground source heat pump, you're now taking quite a bit a bit out of the earth. But I think it's still worth it if you can make it part of a complete breakfast a complete energy system. So this heat pump is not geothermal that's hot. It's geothermal that's not particularly hot at all, but you're just extracting it. Just like our deeper geothermal, both traditional and advanced. However, you can have too much of a good thing. And you can literally freeze the ground under a house in cold weather, especially if there's multiple houses or a lot of people living in the same area. And you can actually freeze the earth and slow down the heat getting back to it and sharply drive up the amount of energy needed for your system until you're using up almost as much electricity as you would with a with a resistance heating system. In the most extreme cases. We had a lot of people drawing and a lot of heat from the earth in a smaller Yeah.


Chris Keefer  39:50  

Okay, interesting. But I do want to get back to the the breakthrough announcement at hand. And I want to talk a little bit about, you know, some of the cost drivers and the potential for innovation here. are, you know something that holds back the nuclear industry is obviously a very harsh regulatory environment and environment where paradoxically, Innovation often hurts nuclear. I think a lot of people are hyped about enhanced geothermal because it is piggybacking on the back of an area of incredible innovation that we've seen with the fracking industry in the oil and gas industry. So in terms of like, costing this down, what are your thoughts? And I know this is kind of very early days, I'm asking you to be pretty hypothetical here. But just building upon my sort of, you know, what am I call it against like a Stephen Colbert sort of truthiness vibe, my instinct towards this something that's that's potentially quite viable and can cost down because of those those factors that play Can you can you flesh that out with a little more detail?


Mark Nelson  40:47  

Sure. I mean, this energy around advanced geothermal is coming from finally using the best of of, of oil and gas techniques. For geothermal. That's the novelty here. And what I've heard is that there's been a leap forward in drillbit technology that helps drill faster, cheaper. There's the directional drilling process to make it turn and go exactly exactly where you want to within meters. So being able to plan and exploit the resources that you get the acreage for, and I have poked into this a little bit, what are the rights for geothermal compared to the rights for oil and gas, and you still need to have leasing the acreage above the surface area where you have your wells, even if you're drawing heat or oil and gas from further afield, the well itself cannot be any further than the the boundaries of the acreage that you've leased. And your basic the pore space is part of the mineral rights. So pour p o r e, so like the holes in the rock that are either there naturally or create that you're intending to flush with water, in order to extract the heat back, that pore space is part of the of the rights that are assigned along with mineral rights. So it's all part of the same thing, and therefore can use extremely well developed law, regulatory law. for oil and gas, so that that's good. I think that there has to be a realistic expectation of how much energy you get out of a geothermal well, compared to an oil and gas well, it's that's harvesting hydrocarbons from a formation, you're gonna get a lot less now you don't have the carbon emissions. And I understand that's the point. But it's this is a this is still a relatively low power dense form of energy. And as long as we are okay with that, and we use it like a small clean oil and gas, well, except you can't use the oil and gas, chemical, you just burn it and use it right there on the spot, then I think that's the right way to look at it, you know, little Earth batteries, if it's depending on what we hear from the fervor folks, what how they're planning to operate and run these systems? Are they peaking? Or are they going to be running most of the time? And are they going to be running most of the time at a lower level? Plus some peeking? How are they going to do it? I'm excited to learn. But either way that really does complement nuclear. And I think people need to understand that it is likely to complement nuclear, I will be very interested to hear the performance of the pipes and the surface equipment compared to the lowered cost of drilling these wells compared to even in you know, 10 years ago. So there's a lot of things to look at. And obviously, we'll have to keep our our the hype trains under control. But I think it will open people's eyes to seeing if there's an advantage for geothermal, then almost every part of those advantages will be true for nuclear to at the point where people stay positive about geothermal and not worrying about the fracking or earthquake connections. And if fear of nuclear goes down, and I think that's nothing but a win all around.


Chris Keefer  44:15  

Well, I mean, in terms of firming or peaking, you know, and the way I think about wind and solar, obviously is you know, you have these, these valleys and mountains of production, which don't necessarily coincide, don't have a high capacity value, don't coincide with demand, and you're having to fill in a lot of valleys. You needing a one to one complete backup system. And so yes, geothermal might help to fill up those valleys and help with some peaks and help make that that collection of resources have a higher capacity, value or ability to match the demands of a system. But I am actually like leaving this conversation very excited about the potential for enhanced geothermal to complement nuclear running, you know, a nice nuclear plant at baseload and being able to, you know, on a more diurnal sort of storage cycle or dispatch ability side they'll be able to meet those peaks with enhanced geothermal, if indeed they will be running in some kind of load following or peaking capacity. I think. I think rather than this threatening to eat nuclear lunch, this could be an amazing good news story for this pairing of technologies.


Mark Nelson  45:14  

I mean, yeah, Chris, it's still less affected by the weather than most other things that that people are proposing as clean energy. So that is good.


Chris Keefer  45:27  

Okay, Mark, any closing thoughts? We are, we're 1515 minutes off the hour. And that is absolutely fine. I'm basically I think, out of out of the questions I've got for you. But if you have any, any closing thoughts, or anything else you wanted to bring up in regards to this topic?


Mark Nelson  45:44  

Sure. Just that I wanted to mention that there's about 16 gigawatts of installed geothermal capacity today. So it will not tell you in the US or around the world, the US has a few gigawatts, I believe three or three and a half or so. So that's a that's a pretty slow rise compared to our other clean energy sources. Is geothermal poised to have a boom that say, more like, nuclear? So a big boom, but less than potential? Is it? Is it poised to have a boom like wind and solar? I don't know. I mean, the experience of the geysers shows us that you can actually have enough geothermal to make sense at one time, but then exhaust local heat supplies and have to operate it slow lower and lower capacity factors. As long as we keep an understanding that this is the earth just does not send us high grade heat rapidly. That this may be in order to be sustainable occasionally, or at larger scales, this may have to be sort of a low intensity resource that we use in specific times, or that we don't expect to underpin all of our energy policy. Within that, it could be a genuinely interesting part of the puzzle that unlike other clean energy sources, provides jobs so good that people were were already doing them in the case of the oil and gas workers, and uses a lot of existing knowledge and existing regulatory processes. And a way that I think mean that the barriers are fewer, to making this go. If the if the economics that Furbo is excited about can be borne out for more than a few dozen megawatts in their in their test roll, which of course they will, I'm just waiting to see how much area they're looking to take to have the best combination of heat source, location and market for their electrical energy. So excited.


Chris Keefer  47:57  

Leveraging the US fracking industry, you know, promises the potential anyway, of I think really rapid scaling. So pretty exciting. I guess just one last comment would be because of this earthquake concern. We're not going to be localizing enhanced geothermal right next to dense population centers. Do you see transmission as being much of an issue here, or since these are still fairly well, localized and fairly power dense in terms of you know, they're talking about their Utah site being 400 megawatts, not really a big issue


Mark Nelson  48:27  

remains to be seen, Chris, because guess what Sal else is out there in Nevada, not many people and and like a lot of wind and solar already built in. I think the the partnership that vervoe, for example, has with Microsoft to co locate, or at least co locate in the grid since data centers and the first wave of plants. I think that will tell us a lot of information. And I think it's no accident that the same Microsoft that's interested in advanced geothermal with vervoe is a leader in bringing the discussion on nuclear to the fore and actually is going to have I believe that World Nuclear Association, Microsoft's new director of nuclear energy is going to be speaking so it'll be a great time to ask him that. I don't know if he'll be able to make it but I'll for sure have some questions for him about what they're what they're seeing. And Vance geothermal in both comparison to nuclear and in complement with nuclear.


Chris Keefer  49:27  

Amazing. Okay, Mark, thank you. Again, five days notice I think you've pulled off something pretty, pretty extraordinary here. I certainly enrich my my knowledge of this and my thinking about it, so I can't thank you enough, my friend. You bet yours



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