The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has entered into an agreement with Australia and Iceland to create the International Partnership for Geothermal Technology (IPGT), which will allow the three countries to pool their expertise to jointly research and develop geothermal technologies in an effort to promote greater energy security and help address climate change.

Geothermal, which harnesses heat from the ground, is most familiar to builders as ground source heat pumps for home heating and cooling (see "Gaining Ground", Spring 2008). Though it makes up less than 1% of the residential market, the Freedonia Group projects installations will double by 2011. Geothermal also is being used by an increasing number of communities for district water heating, in which hot water from underground is supplied to homes via a common water pipe.

But geothermal heat from deeper within the earth also can be converted to electricity, and the DOE is working on ways to improve the conversion process in geothermal power plants, among other challenges, that will allow for more widespread use of the resource.

"This international collaborative will bind the U.S., Australia, and Iceland to work together to accelerate the development of geothermal energy, bringing this clean, domestic, and natural energy to the market in the near-term to confront the serious challenges of climate change and energy security," said the DOE's acting assistant secretary for policy and international affairs Katharine Fredriksen in a statement.

The residential power implications could be a ways away, but the opportunity is there. "We think there's great potential for geothermal energy ... to generate electrical power for the grid," Ed Wall, program manager for geothermal technologies at the DOE, tells EcoHome. "We think that if we perfect the development of enhanced geothermal systems, we will really be able to look at applications throughout the U.S."
Part of the promise of geothermal is that, unlike solar and wind, it provides 24/7 baseload renewable energy, Wall says.

"I think in the future, our electricity needs will be served by a broader portfolio of technologies," he adds, "and geothermal will be part of that broader portfolio."