Google’s new geothermal energy project is up and running

A unique geothermal energy project is currently operating in Nevada that will help power Google’s data centers with clean energy.

Google is working with the startup Fervo, which has developed a new technology for using geothermal energy. Because they use different tactics than traditional geothermal plants, it is a relatively small project with a capacity of 3.5 MW. For comparison: One megawatt is enough to cover the needs of around 750 households. The project will add power to the local grid that powers two of Google’s data centers outside Las Vegas and Reno.

It’s part of Google’s plan to run 24/7 carbon-free electricity by 2030. To achieve this goal, more sources of clean energy must be available online. And she sees geothermal energy as an important part of the future electricity mix that can step in when wind and solar power decline.

“If you think about how much we’ve advanced wind, solar and lithium-ion storage, here we are – this is sort of the next line of things and we think companies have a big role to play in that “We have to play a role in the further development of these technologies.”

“If you think about how much we’ve advanced wind, solar and lithium-ion storage, here we are – this is sort of the next line of things and we think companies have a big role to play in that “We need to play a role in further developing these technologies,” says Michael Terrell, senior director of energy and climate at Google.

The project has been in the works since 2021, when Google announced the “world’s first enterprise agreement to develop a next-generation geothermal energy project.” Geothermal energy uses the heat that comes out of the earth’s interior. But this venture is not your average geothermal plant, which typically draws hot fluids from natural reservoirs to produce steam that drives turbines.

This new project is actually built on the edge of an existing geothermal field, where there is, in Terrell’s words, “hot rock but no liquid.” To generate geothermal energy there, Fervo had to drill two horizontal wells through which it pumps water. Fervo pushes cold water through cracks in the rock, heating it so it can produce steam again at the surface. It’s a closed-loop system, so water is reused – an important feature in a drought-prone region like Nevada.

Fervo also installed fiber optic cables in the two wells to collect real-time data on flow, temperature and performance of its geothermal system. These are tactics adopted by the oil and gas industry to develop energy resources that would otherwise have been unattainable.

“This project was very promising for us because it leveraged existing technologies used in the oil and gas space,” says Terrell. “And so we felt like it had a lot of potential and a lot of potential to come online sooner rather than later.” Aside from this deal with Google, Fervo is also receiving backing for its technology from Bill Gates’ climate investment firm Breakthrough Energy Ventures and the US -Ministry of Energy.

Unlike wind and solar farms, which depend on the weather and time of day, geothermal projects can generate electricity more consistently. That’s one of the reasons why Google is working to bring more projects like this online.

In September, the company announced another partnership with nonprofit Project InnerSpace to “leverage their respective strengths to address critical challenges in geothermal development, including the development of a global geothermal resource mapping and assessment tool.”

For now, the company is keeping quiet about where else it might try to use geothermal energy for its data centers. Data centers are notorious for consuming vast amounts of electricity, consuming around 1 percent of the world’s electricity.