Assessing Low-Temperature Geothermal Play Types: Relevant Data and Play Fairway Analysis Methods

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) is supporting the Geothermal Heating and Cooling Geospatial Datasets and Analysis project conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as part of a broader effort to demonstrate the multi-faceted value of integrating geothermal power and geothermal heating and cooling (GHC) technologies into national decarbonization plans and community energy plans. Currently, there is a need to establish baseline low-temperature geothermal resource datasets and evaluate methods for deploying these technologies to provide the basis for supporting private sector investment. This project is focused on collecting baseline datasets, updating conceptual models, and creating Play Fairway Analysis (PFA) workflows for low-temperature (<150 degrees Celsius) geothermal resources of different geothermal play types (i.e., sedimentary basin, orogenic belts, and radiogenic geothermal play types) that could be used for geothermal heating and cooling (GHC), combined heat and power (CHP), and other geothermal direct uses (GDU) applications. Low-temperature geothermal resources are defined as reservoirs - natural or engineered - with temperatures <150 degrees Celsius. While the focus in the NREL effort is on GHC, resources at the upper end of this temperature range can also be used for small-scale power generation. This project does not include Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHPs) technologies because they can be effectively developed almost anywhere. Low-temperature geothermal resources have not been studied as extensively as higher- to medium-temperature geothermal resources, but there is recent interest in improving understanding of these types of resources with an uptick of interest in geothermal technologies for decarbonizing heating and cooling systems. In addition, Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) and other emerging technologies for exploiting petrothermal resources have opened the possibility of utilizing deep sedimentary basin systems, where porous media provide permeability and high temperatures can be reached at great depths. This project takes the approach of classifying low- temperature geothermal resources by geothermal play type (GPT). We defined and characterized three major classes of low-temperature GPT: sedimentary basins, orogenic systems, and radiogenic systems. We develop methodologies for evaluating and analyzing the potential for these resources building off the PFA approach to de-risking geothermal exploration and characterization. The proposed PFA approach for low-temperature geothermal resources includes: 1) identifying relevant data (e.g., datasets such bottom-hole temperatures from oil and gas wells, heat flow data, Quaternary faults and stress field data, geophysical data, etc.); 2) grouping and weighting of relevant datasets into PFA criteria (e.g., geological, risk, and economic criteria); 3) uncertainty quantification; 4) developing favorability or common risk maps for low-temperature geothermal resources to identify potential locations for more focused data collection; and 5) estimating electric power generation and heating potential at those locations using the GeoRePORT Resource Size Assessment Tool (RSAT). This project should facilitate future deployment of GHC, CHP, and GDU by providing data, tools, and a workflow applicable to low-temperature geothermal resources. Increased deployment of GHC and GDU will help achieve national and local decarbonization goals.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages85
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5700-87259


  • favorability maps
  • geothermal heating and cooling
  • geothermal play type
  • low-temperature
  • play fairway analysis


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