September 21, 2022

Nontechnical Barriers to Geothermal Development


Geothermal energy presents a significant opportunity for the United States (US). The US has the largest known geothermal resource in the world, with over 31 GW of conventional geothermal (i.e., hydrothermal) potential. Despite this, the development of geothermal power plants has lagged other renewable resources. Though some of the gaps stem from technical barriers numerous non-technical barriers are preventing geothermal energy from reaching its full potential. The gaps include a need to reduce the cost impacts of seismic risk, environmental risk, exploration, drilling and permitting cost risk, and reduced summer capacity on plant profitability. This report identifies pathways to overcome these barriers. We find that geothermal energy could increase its market presence by acting as a complement to lower cost renewables, providing flexible or baseload power in low carbon scenarios. We also outline several contractual and operational strategies (including the use of hybrid systems) that plant operators can pursue to improve the value of their resource, such as multi part remuneration mechanisms that guarantee revenue (e.g., availability payments or a Contract for Differences approach) or resource risk hedging approaches (e.g., shaped market products and portfolio resource approaches).

Published: September 21, 2022


Bhatnagar D., H.S. Rabinowitz, D.S. Boff, B. Pennell, C. Holland, M.R. Weimar, and B. Huang, et al. 2022. Nontechnical Barriers to Geothermal Development Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.