June 28, 2022

Salton Sea Geothermal Development - Nontechnical Barriers to Entry – Analysis and Perspectives


Geothermal energy offers an opportunity to generate baseload, renewable energy that can help support the transition to an energy economy with reduced impacts on climate change and replace older, more expensive, nonrenewable, and more resource-impacting energy-generation facilities. The United States has the largest known geothermal resource in the world, with over 31 GW of conventional geothermal potential. However, due to market conditions, an inability to properly quantify both electrical grid benefits and resource stability, and the difficulty of exploring and developing the geothermal resource, few new geothermal projects have come online over the past three decades. The Salton Sea, in Imperial County, California, provides a prime location and opportunity to develop new geothermal resources. The Salton Sea contains a robust, well-mapped, geothermal resource, with opportunities for concurrent development of lithium and other mineral resources. This report describes the history of geothermal development at the Salton Sea and compares geothermal to other renewable energy sources in the area. The report then uses a techno-economic analysis (TEA) model to analyze the relative benefits and costs of various challenges and opportunities and provides recommendations for streamlining geothermal development at the Salton Sea and elsewhere. The challenges and opportunities analyzed in the TEA model were informed by stakeholder interviews and literature reviews. Based upon the identified challenges and opportunities and the results of the TEA model, primary findings are that certain nontechnical barriers such as permitting costs play only a minor role in determining the viability of development of the geothermal resource at the Salton Sea. Other barriers such as permitting timelines, government/agency coordination, and the potential co-location of lithium extraction with a geothermal plant may result in much larger impacts on project viability.

Published: June 28, 2022


Goodman D., P. Mirick, and K.D. Wilson. 2022. Salton Sea Geothermal Development - Nontechnical Barriers to Entry – Analysis and Perspectives Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

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