Play fairway analysis (PFA) is a methodology that can improve success rates for geothermal exploration drilling, thus reducing the costs of geothermal projects while facilitating development in new areas. It was originally developed for the oil and gas industry, but has been adapted for discovering geothermal resources over the last decade. The geothermal PFA methodology involves systematically screening a set geographic area for promising qualities typically related to the presence of heat, permeability, and fluid. Successful application of PFA can identify hidden hydrothermal systems. From 2014 to 2021 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) supported the development of PFA for geothermal resources through awards to 11 research teams across the country. The goal of these projects was to advance and adapt PFA for geothermal exploration to produce regional-scale maps that reduce exploration uncertainty. This report is an outcome of the NREL-led PFA Retrospective project, which compiled, synthesized, analyzed the results of GTO's geothermal PFA program. Ultimately, we find that these projects greatly advanced approaches to geothermal exploration and resulted in extensive new data and new discoveries of unrecognized geothermal systems. We used the results to distill best practices in this report and to provide guidance for future applications of geothermal PFA.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages115
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5700-86139


  • exploration
  • geothermal
  • hydrothermal resources
  • play fairway analysis
  • resource assessment


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