Techno-Economic Analysis of Greenfield Geothermal Hybrid Power Plants using a Solar or Natural Gas Steam Topping Cycle

Daniel Wendt, Ghanashyam Neupane, Juliet Simpson, Joshua McTigue, Guangdong Zhu

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The relatively low generation costs associated with wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), and natural-gas power plants make it challenging for geothermal power plants to produce and sell the power that has the reliability and sustainability characteristics that are greatly needed in U.S. power markets. This is especially true for geothermal resources with low-to-medium temperatures, which results in relatively low-thermal efficiency and generation costs that are higher than those for wind, solar PV, and natural gas. This analysis evaluates solar thermal- and natural-gas combustion waste heat recovery-based topping cycle hybridization of geothermal binary power plants. This approach provides several benefits that may allow geothermal power plants to generate power at more competitive costs. First, the addition of solar thermal energy or natural-gas combustion waste heat input to a geothermal power plant provides additional heat input that can be converted to electrical power. Second, the temperature level of the heat obtained from concentrating solar collectors or natural-gas combustion exhaust is higher than that of geothermal heat, which provides opportunities for improving the efficiency of the conversion of thermal energy to electrical power. Third, the ease with which solar thermal systems integrate with energy storage and the flexibility of natural gas means power generation can occur during peak demand periods. The hybrid cycles are compared to equivalently sized, co-located, independent geothermal, concentrating solar, and/or natural-gas power plants. The hybrid cycle tends to produce slightly more power than the standalone plants combined. However, the hybrid plant Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) is slightly higher than the LCOE of the combined standalone power plants for each of the case study locations investigated. Using the steam-topping cycle, organic Rankine cycle (ORC)-bottoming cycle hybrid plant design to combine a solar thermal resource and low- temperature geothermal resource (<120 degrees C) leads to a hybrid plant with a lower LCOE than a standalone geothermal-only system. Thus, hybrid plants may enable the economic development of geothermal resources in locations with low geothermal resource temperatures. However, in areas with higher geothermal resource temperatures (>120 degrees C), the geothermal-only plant has a lower LCOE than the hybrid cycle and thus could be developed without the need for solar heat addition. iv A geothermal-natural-gas reciprocating engine hybrid plant was evaluated for an Elk Hills, California case study location. The Elk Hills case study analysis indicates that when the natural-gas engine operates for more than 12 hours per day the hybrid plant can produce power at an LCOE lower than a standalone geothermal plant, and comparable to that of the standalone natural-gas reciprocating engine, while also reducing the carbon intensity of the power generated relative to the standalone natural-gas engine. This may represent a scenario in which the hybrid plant provides an opportunity for the deployment of a low-temperature geothermal resource that otherwise may have an LCOE too high to develop and operate as a standalone resource, while also reducing the carbon intensity of natural-gas generation sources. A "triple-hybrid" plant that combines natural gas, solar thermal, thermal energy storage, and geothermal was also investigated. A natural-gas combustion turbine (NGCT) is added to the geothermal-solar hybrid such that the hot exhaust gas from the gas turbine provides an alternative source of heat to the steam turbine of the hybrid cycle. Analysis results suggest that the triple-hybrid plant has a significantly higher energy generation and revenue than a standalone NGCT or the original geothermal-solar hybrid. The triple-hybrid design benefits most from using a smaller solar field so that the solar energy can be dispatched at the most valuable times available. The triple-hybrid plant also has a lower LCOE than the standalone NGCT. The triple-hybrid plant was evaluated making simple assumptions about the dispatch profile of the gas cycle, and more nuanced and realistic dispatching schedules should be analyzed in future work.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages93
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5700-89326

Other Report Number

  • INL/RPT-24-77205


  • concentrating solar power
  • geothermal power
  • hybrid power generation
  • natural gas combustion reciprocating engine power
  • natural gas combustion waste heat recovery
  • natural gas turbine power
  • thermal energy storage


Dive into the research topics of 'Techno-Economic Analysis of Greenfield Geothermal Hybrid Power Plants using a Solar or Natural Gas Steam Topping Cycle'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this