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Title: Life Cycle Water Consumption and Water Resource Assessment for Utility-Scale Geothermal Systems: An In-Depth Analysis of Historical and Forthcoming EGS Projects

This report is the third in a series of reports sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Geothermal Technologies Program in which a range of water-related issues surrounding geothermal power production are evaluated. The first report made an initial attempt at quantifying the life cycle fresh water requirements of geothermal power-generating systems and explored operational and environmental concerns related to the geochemical composition of geothermal fluids. The initial analysis of life cycle fresh water consumption of geothermal power-generating systems identified that operational water requirements consumed the vast majority of water across the life cycle. However, it relied upon limited operational water consumption data and did not account for belowground operational losses for enhanced geothermal systems (EGSs). A second report presented an initial assessment of fresh water demand for future growth in utility-scale geothermal power generation. The current analysis builds upon this work to improve life cycle fresh water consumption estimates and incorporates regional water availability into the resource assessment to improve the identification of areas where future growth in geothermal electricity generation may encounter water challenges. This report is divided into nine chapters. Chapter 1 gives the background of the project and its purpose, which is to assess the watermore » consumption of geothermal technologies and identify areas where water availability may present a challenge to utility-scale geothermal development. Water consumption refers to the water that is withdrawn from a resource such as a river, lake, or nongeothermal aquifer that is not returned to that resource. The geothermal electricity generation technologies evaluated in this study include conventional hydrothermal flash and binary systems, as well as EGSs that rely on engineering a productive reservoir where heat exists, but where water availability or permeability may be limited. Chapter 2 describes the approach and methods for this work and identifies the four power plant scenarios evaluated: a 20-MW EGS binary plant, a 50-MW EGS binary plant, a 10-MW hydrothermal binary plant, and a 50-MW hydrothermal flash plant. The methods focus on (1) the collection of data to improve estimation of EGS stimulation volumes, aboveground operational consumption for all geothermal technologies, and belowground operational consumption for EGS; and (2) the mapping of the geothermal and water resources of the western United States to assist in the identification of potential water challenges to geothermal growth. Chapters 3 and 4 present the water requirements for the power plant life cycle. Chapter 3 presents the results of the current data collection effort, and Chapter 4 presents the normalized volume of fresh water consumed at each life cycle stage per lifetime energy output for the power plant scenarios evaluated. Over the life cycle of a geothermal power plant, from construction through 30 years of operation, the majority of water is consumed by plant operations. For the EGS binary scenarios, where dry cooling was assumed, belowground operational water loss is the greatest contributor depending upon the physical and operational conditions of the reservoir. Total life cycle water consumption requirements for air-cooled EGS binary scenarios vary between 0.22 and 1.85 gal/kWh, depending upon the extent of belowground operational water consumption. The air-cooled hydrothermal binary and flash plants experience far less fresh water consumption over the life cycle, at 0.04 gal/kWh. Fresh water requirements associated with air- cooled binary operations are primarily from aboveground water needs, including dust control, maintenance, and domestic use. Although wet-cooled hydrothermal flash systems require water for cooling, these plants generally rely upon the geofluid, fluid from the geothermal reservoir, which typically has high salinity and total dissolved solids concentration and is much warmer than normal groundwater sources, for their cooling water needs; thus, while there is considerable geofluid loss at 2.7 gal/kWh, fresh water consumption during operations is similar to that of aircooled binary systems. Chapter 5 presents the assessment of water demand for future growth in deployment of utility-scale geothermal power generation. The approach combines the life cycle analysis of geothermal water consumption with a geothermal supply curve according to resource type, levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), and potential growth scenarios. A total of 17 growth scenarios were evaluated. In general, the scenarios that assumed lower costs for EGSs as a result of learning and technological improvements resulted in greater geothermal potential, but also significantly greater water demand due to the higher water consumption by EGSs. It was shown, however, that this effect could be largely mitigated if nonpotable water sources were used for belowground operational water demands. The geographical areas that showed the highest water demand for most growth scenarios were southern and northern California, as well as most of Nevada. In addition to water demand by geothermal power production, Chapter 5 includes data on water availability for geothermal development areas. A qualitative analysis is included that identifies some of the basins where the limited availability of water is most likely to affect the development of geothermal resources. The data indicate that water availability is fairly limited, especially under drought conditions, in most of the areas with significant near- and medium-term geothermal potential. Southern California was found to have the greatest potential for water-related challenges with its combination of high geothermal potential and limited water availability. The results of this work are summarized in Chapter 6. Overall, this work highlights the importance of utilizing dry cooling systems for binary and EGS systems and minimizing fresh water consumption throughout the life cycle of geothermal power development. The large resource base for EGSs represents a major opportunity for the geothermal industry; however, depending upon geology, these systems can require large quantities of makeup water due to belowground reservoir losses. Identifying potential sources of compatible degraded or low-quality water for use for makeup injection for EGS and flash systems represents an important opportunity to reduce the impacts of geothermal development on fresh water resources. The importance of identifying alternative water sources for geothermal systems is heightened by the fact that a large fraction of the geothermal resource is located in areas already experiencing water stress. Chapter 7 is a glossary of the technical terms used in the report, and Chapters 8 and 9 provide references and a bibliography, respectively.« less
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  1. Environmental Science Division
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Argonne, IL (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE EE Office of Geothermal Technologies (EE-2C)
Country of Publication:
United States