Evaluating the Feasibility of Geothermal Deep Direct-Use in the United States

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This paper investigates the techno-economic feasibility of geothermal deep direct-use for heating, cooling, and thermal energy storage in the United States. The six 2017–2019 deep direct-use projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy are reviewed and evaluated using the simulation tool GEOPHIRES, and results are compared with prior studies, existing geothermal district heating systems in Europe and the United States, as well as non-geothermal centralized and non-centralized heating, cooling, and thermal energy storage systems. Analysis indicates that deep direct-use feasibility varies widely, depending on subsurface characteristics, system design, and financial conditions. Project base case levelized cost of heat values ranged between $13 and $350/MWh; key drivers lowering the levelized cost of heat include higher reservoir temperatures, shallower reservoir depths, higher well flow rates, higher utilization rates, lower drilling costs, and lower discount rates. Incentives such as grants and an investment tax credit resulted in small improvements in project economics. Base case levelized cost of heat values for four projects fell within the range of levelized cost values for existing systems in Europe and the United States, and were comparable to values found in previous studies, including the 2019 GeoVision study. The lowest-cost projects for district heating had comparable levelized cost of heat values to existing fossil-fuel-driven district heating systems, and lower values than decentralized heating with natural gas boilers or heat pumps. Chilled water production with absorption chillers driven by a high-quality geothermal resource obtained attractive levelized cost of cooling values, in line with values from typical centralized cooling production facilities and lower than domestic decentralized cooling with air-conditioning units. Also, thermal energy storage is a potential deep direct-use application, where levelized cost of storage values can be obtained that are comparable to those of other thermal storage techniques such as borehole thermal energy storage and hot water storage tanks. Other aspects of deep direct-use, which are not captured in a standard levelized cost of energy metric, include the ability to decarbonize the heating and cooling supply, and provide reliability and resiliency to the energy infrastructure. These attributes are gaining increased attention and improve overall project feasibility. Finally, this paper identifies technical, market, policy, and social barriers for deep direct-use development in the United States, and provides potential approaches for reducing these barriers.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number114335
Number of pages15
JournalEnergy Conversion and Management
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5700-79100


  • Cooling
  • Geothermal deep direct-use
  • Geothermal district heating
  • Heating
  • Reservoir thermal energy storage
  • Thermal storage


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