Energy Transition Now - Episode 12 with Jamie Beard
In this week’s Energy Transition Now podcast, David speaks with Jamie Beard – a passionate advocate for geothermal energy as the baseload-capable clean energy of the future.
David and Jamie explore the huge potential that geothermal energy has in decarbonising both heat and electricity, and why geothermal is now gaining traction again after an initial lukewarm start. They discuss the opportunities and challenges to scaling the sector, as well as where more time and money needs to be spent to launching geothermal on the ‘curve of the shale boom’. Crucially, Jamie explains the role of the oil and gas sector in achieving this success and how geothermal energy should be seen as the future of oil and gas industry.
Jamie serves as the Executive Director of the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization (GEO) at the University of Texas at Austin, an organization she founded in 2019. She also organizes and curates the PIVOT – From Hydrocarbons to Heat conference series, a gathering dedicated to engaging the oil and gas industry in challenges associated with exploring and drilling for geothermal energy. An energy, regulatory and environmental attorney by training, Jamie is a passionate advocate for geothermal energy as the baseload capable clean energy of the future. Jamie’s work in geothermal has been featured by media outlets such as NPR, WSJ, CNBC, Vox and Rolling Stone. She delivered a TED talk on the subject of geothermal and the oil and gas industry in August, 2021.
David Linden Hello everyone. I’m your host, David Linden, the Head of Energy Transition for the Westwood Global Energy Group, and you’re listening to Energy Transition Now, where we discuss what the transition really means for the oil and gas and the broader energy industry. The focus of today’s podcast is something of a hot topic; geothermal energy. A renewable energy source that has grabbed a lot of attention recently. But for one reason or another has not quite fulfilled its potential yet. So we’re really lucky to have Jamie Baird with us today, who one could describe as a passionate advocate for geothermal energy with the belief that it can act as the baseload capable clean energy of the future. Jamie is an energy regulatory and environmental attorney or solicitor here in the UK by training, and she now serves as the Exec Director of the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization GEO at the University of Texas Austin and organization she founded in 2019. She also organizes and curates The Pivot from Hydrocarbons to Heat conference series, which is really about engaging the oil and gas industry in the challenges associated with and exploring and drilling for geothermal energy. Jamie, your work, I guess, is your passion. It does come across in several fronts. I guess mostly, also, we see it through the media. Certainly, I enjoyed it a lot through the TED talk, which I think you did what a couple of months ago and now has over a million views. So that’s quite something. So welcome. It’s great to have you here.
Jamie Beard Thanks, David. Appreciate your engagement on geothermal.
David Linden Very much. It is definitely a topic we get asked a lot on. So it’s really good to have you here and come to talk to us about it. So thank you for your time as well. So look, I mean, we for these podcasts, at least we have quite a broad audience. So it is always useful to go back to basics, so everyone can follow through what we’re about to say and how on how things actually work. So can we maybe just start with the most, most basic of questions, as such, as what is geothermal energy?
Jamie Beard Well, geothermal generally is using heat from the Earth, a variety of places in Earth, and I can touch on that in a second. But using it for all sorts of things like heating buildings directly or for energy actually producing electricity from hot water, steam from the ground. Geothermal is derived from a few different places, and this is actually I’ve learned recently this is broadly misunderstood. Geothermal energy, as exists today in the world and places like Iceland is volcanic, right? So it’s essentially core heat that’s made its way to the surface and close to the surface. But when you when you start talking about geothermal energy as a scalable concept, meaning doing it anywhere, we’re not focused on core heat anymore, we’re focused on latent heat, which is essentially heat that is a process or a result of radioactive decay of elements in the crust, right? So it’s hot down there for a lot of reasons, that’s not the super hot core of the Earth, right? And that latent heat is often what is encountered in oil and gas operations. Why oil and gas, wells are hot, it’s actually decay heat, not core heat. But anyway, so all of these heat sources combined to produce this just gigantic, ubiquitous, available anywhere resource we call geothermal energy.
David Linden So when you say available anywhere, so if I was to go and drill anywhere in the world, I would encounter some form of heat and it’s potentially useful.
Jamie Beard Yeah, and depending on how deep you drill, it’s definitely going to be useful. So it’s just a matter of the depth of the resource in different places of the world, and it does vary. There are places where it’s very shallow and those places are the locales where we have geothermal energy production today because it’s shallow and it’s easy to get to the right geological conditions exists. But anywhere in the world, if you drill far enough, you reach temperatures that far exceed what we need to produce geothermal electricity. Right. So we do want to make sure we’re separating as we talk direct use heat, geothermal, so geothermal used to heat buildings and houses and for industrial processes, which is lower enthalpy and you don’t need it, it doesn’t have to be as hot. And so you can utilize that source right now, pretty much anywhere in the world. But the high enthalpy stuff, you got to go deeper. It’s got to be a lot hotter and that’s what we use to produce electricity.
David Linden All right. So very clearly, there are a couple of different uses coming out that depending on the kind of heat that you have and how far down you go with where you are in the world. It sounds like, but the question then, I guess is so this is technology or geothermal energy as such as existed for, years, decades. What is it’s what’s it’s value prop, right? Why, why is it we should be looking at it, what problem is it solving that we maybe can’t solve with wind? Let’s just, say, offshore wind or solar.
Jamie Beard The number one characteristic that makes it extraordinarily exciting is the fact that it’s baseload. So geothermal is a green energy or a renewable energy source that is available 24/7, regardless of what any conditions that are going on on the surface. So it doesn’t matter if it’s nighttime, it doesn’t matter if the wind’s blowing, it’s always there and it’s always on. And that that’s really interesting because it negates the need for energy storage. And what that means for environmentalists is that it negates the need for massive lithium mining projects. Right? I mean, the types of questions that we’re starting to cross the bridges, we’re starting to cross now and figuring out how we can possibly mine the volume of rare earths that we need to meet the needs over the next coming decades in terms of energy storage. Geothermal doesn’t need that, right, so it’s always on. And that’s I think it’s a value proposition that is really worth really worth noting, particularly as utilities struggle with the intermittency of other renewables right now. And that is that is evident in the United States for certain. But it’s been very evident also in other parts of the world, particularly as more intermittent like solar and wind come onto the grid. But geothermal, you know, it’s really interesting. You can use different terminologies to speak to different groups of people, and everyone finds reasons to like geothermal. Right? So in Texas, and when I’m speaking to the oil and gas industry, you know, emphasis is on the fact that, you know, geothermal is energy secure, right? So it’s resilient, the military loves it, it can be done on site, it can be done underground, it’s resilient from extreme weather events, it’s very small footprint compared to other renewables, particularly solar and wind. You look at it from an environmental or climate activism angle. We’re talking about a carbon-free or potentially carbon-negative baseload energy source that can be done anywhere in the world that is just a gigantic, huge resource. Right? That means you can do it in your population centers, It means geothermal, since it’s baseload can be constructed in developing nations that are suffering from energy poverty, particularly in place of, say, new coal plants. So, you know, there’s a lot of things to love about geothermal. The question is what angle do you come from and what do you care about? You know, I my I think the number one thing that’s driven me toward geothermal is that it makes a whole lot of sense, right? It makes a, it’s a way for us all to get together and all like a way forward in an energy transition solution.
David Linden No, very nice indeed. Yeah. So that does seem to solve a lot of potentially solves a lot of problems as such. The one thing maybe I would just add listening to you there was you talked about both heat and electricity and certainly here in the UK right now, we’re having this big debate around, well, how do you solve the heat problem, not just the electricity problem, right? And is it hydrogen? Is it something else? But, but yeah, in addition to that list that you’ve got is, well, it does heat as well as electricity. So that’s quite a neat addition.
Jamie Beard I mean, I would say at least 50 percent of the geothermal solution for the future is heat. And that’s something we just got to step back and look at what we’re thinking about now. We’re thinking about, you know, figuring out how to use wind and solar to make green hydrogen, to then turn around and burn to heat homes. And you know, or we could just use heat. Right? I mean, it just it’s such a simple solution comparatively with, quite frankly, when it comes to direct use heat technologies that have been used for hundreds of years. So just so geothermal for heating purposes is not hard. There is no technical risk or uncertainty in terms of that. It’s really a matter of incentives policy, et cetera. It’s getting adoption, education, direct use heat geothermal is obvious. It should be immediate. It should probably be built into building codes. I mean, it’s one of those things that we just need to do. So because of that, I’m less focused on it, right? Because I’m not a policymaker. And so I’m kind of focused on how to how to make the electricity portion work. But I don’t want to underestimate how huge the low enthalpy direct use heat piece is, and there are definitely some, some great startups out there that are working on that piece.
David Linden OK, well, let’s talk a little bit about that then. So. I think you’ve given the sense as to why there has been a revival in geothermal, right, it ticks a lot of boxes, right, it seems to please a lot of customers in that sense. Is it governments saying, “Hey, look, actually, we should be thinking about this”, or is this individual companies saying, “You know what? I’ve got some tech here that I might repurpose and this geothermal thing we’ve been thinking about for a while, maybe it’s now worth giving it a go”. Where’s this sort of revival as such coming from?
Jamie Beard You mean in the media, like the attention that geothermal has gotten recently?
David Linden Yes, because beforehand, geothermal, if I go back to sort of when I first studied even or looked at, you know, various how do you say, well-read literature around geothermal, it was often dismissed as a lower end of the scale of something you should do because of the efficiency and all these different factors. And so if you’re going to do something, do renewables, but as in, you know, solar and wind, subsidize them to get them scaled-up, etc. But geothermal always fell by the wayside. But it is being discussed a lot more. It is being brought up a lot more, you know, and then you’re partly at fault, I guess, Jamie. Right? But I just try to work out where some of this is coming from. Is it governments going “We need every single tech that we can get, so let’s make sure geothermal happens”, Or is this company saying, “You know what? I’ve got a transferable skill here. Let’s let’s see if I can make it work”.
Jamie Beard Yeah. So this is my view, and it’s been a really interesting convergence of events over the past two years. That’s really, it’s really increased over the past maybe 12 months, which is, you know, oil and gas entities, for instance. They thought about geothermal in the past, the past meaning a decade or two ago, some of them made public, you know, publicly, you know, relevant investments, you know, big public moves into hydrothermal projects, for instance, which are like the volcano based hydrothermal Ring of Fire Iceland type projects only to divest later. Right. So they kind of dip their toes in and then jump right back out. And from the best that I can tell in talking with industry folks about this is that, you know, 15 years ago, geothermal looked really cool. It looked as cool as it does today, but it also looked a lot harder. It looked very ‘moonshotty’, almost sci-fi. In particular, scalable geothermal, so geothermal that can be done anywhere in the world that was sci-fi in the in the eyes of oil and gas 15 years ago. Because we didn’t have technologies like all of the technologies that are were developed during the shale boom. So we didn’t have directional drilling technologies, we didn’t have hydraulic fracturing technology. We didn’t have, you know, all the technologies that came out of deepwater offshore exploration. So the high pressure and temperature stuff that we have now. And so all of these knowledge, all this knowledge and learning and expertise and technologies have kind of accumulated on the shelf over the past 15 years. So that kind of that poised, the oil and gas industry to look at this differently because there’s all this capability now that they hadn’t really gone back and re-checked since the sci-fi discussion back fifteen years ago, right? So then, you know, we had, you know, we’ve had this kind of steady stream of carbon-neutrality commitments coming out of the majors and then them looking at each other and thinking, “Well, hell, how are we going to, how are we going to do this?”. And particularly how are we going to do it leveraging our core competencies, which I think has been a real struggle. We’ve had a fever pitch of climate angst. There’s divestment movements, there’s activism, there’s a lot of pressure on entities. And then something really interesting and I think unexpected that has pushed entities to consider geothermal really quickly was first the oil price crash, and then, you know, demand destruction from COVID within the oil and gas industry, freed bandwidth. And so and this goes to the core competency of parents in the oil and gas industry, right? Because you know, when they’re full-out 100 percent on oil and gas, they don’t have time to have their star petrophysicists and geologists thinking about geothermal. They’re thinking about oil and gas. So, so demand destruction. Oil price crash ended up with ended up producing bandwidth, which produced across multiple entities this grassroots geothermal movement. And it was just cool. It was awesome. It was super fun to see. And I was able to grab some of those folks and get them on, get them talking right. And that’s how Pivot happened that you mentioned earlier. So, you know, there’s, a lot of things have come together right where when entities now start looking again at geothermal, now they’re finding a wealth of capability. Whereas, 15 years ago that was not there. Another thing when you mentioned startups, and that’s what I do, is I try to engage oil and gas veterans and I encourage them to create startups and help them get off the ground. Covid help with that, too, because all of the sudden there were a lot of under-employed or unemployed people in the oil and gas industry with all of this capability and knowledge that could be immediately applied in geothermal ventures. And so you had this kind of cohort of really seasoned oil and gas executives, 30, 40 years experience. So these all-executive teams that collectively have hundreds of years of experience from oil and gas entities, launching geothermal companies, and they don’t have to think about it. Like they’re like, “OK, we get funded and we’re going straight into the field and we’re going to go drill because we know how to do that”. Right? And that happened. It’s happened a lot over the past two years. And I think that’s where you’re starting to see all of this media engagement and excitement around geothermal. And also, quite frankly, we’ve seen oil and gas entities start engaging with those startups themselves in terms of fundings and partnerships, et cetera.
David Linden Fascinating. Fascinating, OK. So it’s really interesting transfer of skills and people and ultimately, I guess, as you’re saying, there some money as well. Which you usually need to make all this happen. But I think it’s interesting because when you talk about it, when we first spoke, I think you labeled it, geothermal energy, you labeled as ‘the future of oil and gas’, which almost sounds a bit different to people coming from oil and gas and doing geothermal energy. That sort of transferability angle? Yes. So when you talk about geothermal being the future of oil and gas, do you mean by that?
Jamie Beard I like this question. Thank you for asking this question. So this is a point of nuance that I think folks should really focus on here in terms of energy transition for oil and gas entities across the board, I mean, operators or oilfield service, all drilling contractors. In talking about energy transition, you often hear this narrative of, “Oh well, we’re relevant in this space [solar and wind, typically, but sometimes others]. We’re relevant in this space because we know how to scale stuff we can produce, we know how to build projects so clearly we can go and help with wind farms”. Right? And that and I’m seeing that kind of starting to be applied for geothermal as well, and I think that is completely wrong. OK. So I think that is just the wrong way to look at this. Because in terms of oil and gas, it’s the interest in geothermal should not be, “Oh, let’s fund start-up companies and then we’ll help them scale”. The interest should be “This is our core competency. We need to just do this.” Right? So there is no other renewable that fits the bill this way where you literally engage up and down the chain. Everybody in oil and gas, I mean, including assets. We’re talking about rig workers and rigs, but we’re also talking about Ph.D. level geophysicist and geologists and petroleum engineers, everybody from exploration to production, drilling, engineering, everything right? And that should that goes to the core of these parent companies in terms of capability, and that should be a different discussion that should not be “Oh, let’s just help startups scale”. That should be “Wow. This is a way for us to actually keep our core business model but shift into a clean and renewable energy source”. And so I don’t think that that’s getting enough discussion. It’s certainly not being discussed enough in the C-suite of majors, as far as I can tell. And so that’s why I say I think it’s the future of the industry because I really believe it is. And investing in startups is a good way to start. And it’s kind of necessary in terms of risk mitigation a little bit for some of these entities. But at some point we’ve got to get to the point where we flip the switch and just start doing it as the business model because it makes a lot of sense. Right? So anyway, that’s what I mean when I, and I realise it bold, but like, is it more bold than oil and gas entities becoming wind producers? I mean, I guess what, when you step back and you look at the alternatives that oil and gas companies are considering, they’re literally considering laying off most of their oil and gas related workforce and rehiring people that know how to do solar and wind and trying to pivot while being on the back foot, into areas where there’s just not core competency. That’s not how you lead, right, you lead with core competency and geothermal is squarely that.
David Linden Very interesting, I could see how the core competency piece plays across. It is something that that the oil and gas industry often talks about and is trying to find ways to, you know, have some relevance as such, within this transition. And it’s actually quite nice to hear such a clear story, which isn’t often well told, maybe, across the other sectors, because it is difficult to say. But yeah, I’m sure you have some interesting debates with the oil and gas majors as to whether they think that’s the case. But it’s a very it’s a very clear message and a very clear line of sight for folks to think about. But you know, a lot of what we talked about clearly is, okay, here’s the opportunity. Here’s the positivity around it and the things that we can do. But of course, it hasn’t all been done yet, and there are things that still need to happen for that to work. And part of that is just as you say, you know, de-risking it, maybe from a kind of “Look, I do feel this is my core business model now”, or whatever. But can you maybe just highlight some of the things that you see from a kind of whether it’s a technical or commercial angle that you see the kind of challenges you need to overcome to make this work?
Jamie Beard Yes, and this question actually is a great segue way to what you just said, because it goes straight to the reason that oil and gas tells me they can’t do it, which is hilarious because they absolutely can. So I mean, and I’ll explain; there are technical challenges. To all geothermal concepts, and there are ways that the concepts need to be optimised and improved. There’s a little ways to go. But again, we used to produce oil that was sitting on the surface of the Earth in puddles, and we figured out a way to now, you know, drill for oil and gas in deepwater, right? So I mean, these are things that the oil and gas industry, these are problems and challenges that the oil and gas industry at its core knows how to solve, right? So geothermal challenges are essentially the same challenges that oil and gas encountered in figuring out how to drill for oil and gas below the surface, right? And the deeper they went and the harder it went, they solved those challenges in the context of hydrocarbons. And geothermal is at the oil puddle laying on the ground phase of its life. I mean, we are currently producing geothermal energy in the world where it’s essentially laying on the surface. I mean, Iceland, you’ve got puddles of hot water where people soak right in front of it right next to a geothermal power plant. It’s at the surface, we know how to do it, that’s what we do. But you know, the deeper we go, the hotter we go; tools fail, drilling gets hard, it’s expensive, you have a lot of total failure, in terms of scalable geothermal concepts like engineered geothermal systems. Their fracture-based, it’s complicated. I mean, the fractures change over time. They don’t connect properly, you don’t have flow rates that are efficient to make enough to produce enough on the surface, you know, there’s seismicity risk with operating engineered geothermal systems. In some places, the risk is more than others. And again, these types of problems would leverage directly all kinds of learnings and brains from the oil and gas industry in figuring that out, right? And it’s all about, you know, faults and fracture mapping and predicting behaviors know in the newer concepts like closed-loop systems, there’s also problems there. They may be a different set of problems, but they are still they’re still relevant where these are systems that are not, they don’t use hydraulic fracturing, necessarily in their construction. It’s typically directionally drilled system, sometimes the fractures are used to enhance the system, but the fractures are not used to flow working fluid through the system, so they tend to not – or at least it’s predicted that they wouldn’t – produce seismicity issues, but they’ve got different issues, right? Like poor heat transfer, they may be better suited for direct heat use projects, than electricity. But again, these are all problems and challenges that if you know five or 10 percent of the brains in the oil and gas industry focused on them, they would be solved. They would be solved fast like a year or two or three, not decades. Right? And I think the challenges with geothermal are, exist because there haven’t been enough really smart people that are perfect for the role thinking about them. And so, you know, the chicken and egg problem of oil and gas saying, “Oh, well, we can’t do this because it’s too expensive or there’s technology challenges”. Well. What the you know, on the other hand, you absolutely could fix all the technology challenges very quickly with engagement, right? And so a lot of what I do in my day-to-day and figuring out how to deploy geothermal as quickly as possible, is trying to figure out the balance between risk mitigation for the oil and gas industry and majors and getting them to fully engage in the problems set in a way that would solve challenges really quickly.
David Linden Anyone who isn’t a geologist who follows this well might have even got completely lost in all the things you’re saying there, because of course, there are technology challenges that are unique to that area. But if you if you’re maybe someone who, as you say, thinks about cost but also looks at renewables as a whole and is saying things like, “Well, you know, part of the reason that offshore wind made it or solar is making it. It’s because they had subsidies. They had a demand center. Governments wanted them to happen”. Is part of the challenge here… Well, there’s two things, right, I guess one is it because it’s not necessarily a supported technology in the same way that others are? So, you know, others benefit from tax incentives or subsidies of some sort, in one way. And the second bit is, is that while you’re talking about, you know, some technical challenges that if you’re thinking of heat that you could provide for heating purposes in an industrial site or something like that. Is part of the problem, not really, how do you say this, the commercial angle, so “Where is my demand?”, “Who’s going to pay for this?”, rather than the technical side of it as well? So I’m asking you two questions in one, I guess I’m asking, is the incentive lacking? And then more broadly, is the commercial structure just maybe quite hard to solve for some players because they haven’t really thought about how to take the heat that’s everywhere and then go and put it into a demand center that actually needs it? And I know I’m talking about heat rather than electricity here, but it’s just one angle.
Jamie Beard Yes. I understand your question. Yep. OK, so first part of the question political will, subsidy, support incentives. That has that boat has left essentially. So geothermal to be… No. Geothermal has not been supported historically by governments. Not even close to the amount and level that other renewables have been supported. I mean, we’re talking about single digit percentages of the total amounts of subsidies, incentives, et cetera. So geothermal is often labeled for that reason, the forgotten renewable and for good reason. Right. Had geothermal enjoyed the same supports and subsidies. We would probably be powered on geothermal energy right now. I think that for us to, though, try to convince governments at this juncture to fund geothermal at a level that would catch it up with solar and wind for after 20 years of generous support and subsidy is completely unrealistic, right? So there has to be a different, a different way. And that is why I look to the oil and gas industry because, you know, realising that I’m looking at this incredibly capable Ferrari of an industry that knows exactly how to solve these challenges and thinking, alright, we leverage that brain trust with a little bit of dollars that we will find, right? I mean, and I’m talking about a billion or two to get teams into the field to build these for, you know, first of their kind, geothermal projects, right? I mean, really, we just need to start deploying and we need to get the right brains in on that. So the oil and gas entities need to be engaged. But for a billion or two, with oil and gas industry behind this, we could catch up in terms of cost to solar and wind within, say, five years, maybe 10. Right. And that is really important. I mean, I think that when people discount geothermal and thinking, well, it’s just too expensive and there’s no way it’ll catch up with solar and wind, there is a lot of inertia, no doubt. But I think that we need to back up and be smart. Inertia doesn’t mean that it’s the right solution. It means that there’s inertia. Right? And so when people try to cram geothermal into this predetermined well, the future of the world is 90 percent intermittents. So it’s going to be 90 percent solar and wind. And so geothermal just needs to get crammed in that extra ten, that left 10 percent. No, let’s rethink that entirely, right? Oil and gas industry, you know, throws in on this and we get teams deployed and we get at geothermal on that exponential growth curve that natural gas enjoyed. And all of the sudden we’re looking about, you know, we’re thinking about dumping terawatts of geothermal energy onto the grid in a really short period of time. And you multiply that times, say the number of oil and gas wells that are drilled globally, you know, forty thousand a year in the United States, seventy or eighty thousand globally. All of the sudden, by 2050, on an exponential growth curve, you’re talking about the ability to meet world energy demand with geothermal. So I would suggest that, you know, in people when thinking about the potential here, we need to kind of back out of some of the assumptions that we’ve made about what the future energy pie will look like and we need to push back on, you know, incumbency and think, “Well, wait, what’s the smartest way, you know, not look, not just what has inertia, but what makes the most sense?”, right? So, that’s the answer to your first question, like can governments fix it? Can you know, can we fix it politically? Yeah, but it would have to be a lot of money. It would have to be right now. And I just it’s not realistic, right? So then the question is, well, then what? Right? I mean, so then that means that we’re going to have to convince oil and gas that there’s a business model here. Yes. That is what I’m up to. Right. So the question is, how do we convince oil and gas that they can make money doing this? And I will make an observation here. So what I’ve heard from the oil and gas industry essentially about geothermal is that they’re just not going to make enough money doing it. So the return is not high enough that they’re going to have to become utilities to make it happen. And they don’t, you know, not sure about that. It sounds weird and uncertain. Here’s the thing; if oil and gas entities, particularly the operators, don’t become utilities, then what are they going to become? Right. So I think that that is worth noting, like if you’re not, if you’re going to be the energy company of the future. But if it’s not producing electrons and it’s not producing hydrocarbons, then what is right? And so I think that we need to, we need to revisit that whole, “Oh, we don’t want to become utilities” thing, which I’ve heard from three of the international oil companies, right, that there were. OK, so let’s question that. Geothermal would require oil companies become utilities. So what? That sounds awesome, right? Let’s rethink that. Second. Not high enough return. Here’s another really funny thing that’s happening in oil and gas. They’ve spun off, many entities have spun off these new energies arms that have gone off away from the parent, and they’re doing solar and wind projects. And in those arms, they understand being utility companies, they understand power purchase agreements, they understand the business model of making less, lower returns, 30 year power purchase agreements, nice and stable income. They figured it out in the new energy arms. But the new energy arms and the parents aren’t talking, right. They don’t collaborate well with one another, and geothermal goes to the core competencies of the parents, and I’m talking to the parents. Right. So when I go to the parent and say, “But wait, you got this new energies group over here? They figured this, I mean, they get the business model. You just need to invite your own team to talk with you about how”, you see what I’m saying, right? It’s the weirdest thing. It’s a weird thing that I can’t solve. But so I would, I guess my point is here, we need to question whether parents really need the rate of return that they get in oil and gas, in the future. Right. And they and I think there also needs to be a valuation in terms of the boom and bust nature of oil and gas, meaning a negative valuation of that. Geothermal does not have that problem. Right. So there… geothermal needs to get a boost based on the fact that it is a very stable investment over a long period of time. And so there does need to be some innovation, I think, in the finance departments of some of the majors in terms of this. And I think really it would be about inviting the new energies groups to talk about how they navigated becoming utilities and got used to the rates of return. So anyway, business case, that’s the kind of the guts of oil and gas in business case that I’m struggling with. But in terms of driving costs down, you know, there there are startups in the field that are drilling, you know, I mean, some of these oil and gas veteran startup teams have gone out raise money and, you know, within 12 or 18 months time from their launch are out in the field drilling geothermal projects and trying, trying to do demonstrations and release data. And so we’re just on the cusp of the outcome of some of these projects, you know, and there are teams out there who are aiming to be competitive with solar and wind on their, say, fourth or fifth project. So I mean, let that sink in for a second, right? I mean, you have a, if that works, that’s an incredible learning curve. That’s fast. But I’ll mention again, like these are oil and gas teams that’s what they do. They squeeze efficiency, they pad drill. It’s manufacturing, right? That’s exactly, they cost reduce. The numbers will tell the story, I think, when some of these teams finish their demonstrations.
David Linden It’s so fascinating because there’s a number of technologies that we’ve talked about, either on this podcast that we’ve written about in various blogs, that, I dont want to name them and shame them. But ultimately, those are technologies that will require big changes in regulation to ever work. Right? Because what they’re doing, maybe that’s capturing carbon in some shape or form has no value. But of course, what geothermal does has value because it solves a number of problems. But you’ve got a cost curve to go down. And if you think about it, that’s exactly what solar and wind and others did. And it wasn’t just purely subsidies, it was actually, you know, scaling and efficiency and all those things. And actually that’s trying to be now applied to the hydrogen economy, right? So there’s a lot of start ups in hydrogen that I’ve got a solar background because they learned that the manufacturing side and how to scale and reduce costs, you can apply there. So you’re actually saying the same thing that anyone that’s in the climate tech world is saying for what we would call the classic, how do you say that, menu of things that people like to talk about, which is solar, wind, hydrogen, CCS, et cetera? But it actually is extremely relevant geothermal and maybe even clearer. Interestingly, just listening to you there. And yeah, and there’s I mean, they’re little self plug for us, we have a little like thing on our website where we talk through the startups and what’s going on there. But I do find that fascinating in itself, all the different technologies and how they’re being applied, because again, that’s how a lot of these other industries start. They have startups and those scale, and some will fail, others will do really well. And that’s what will start to create the innovation that’s needed. So it’s very interesting.
Jamie Beard And the parallel in oil and gas is the same. I mean, oil and gas did the same thing in oil and gas cost reduction, efficiency. You had the George Mitchell, you have the wildcatters out there have taken the risks. Then the industry shifts. I mean, it’s the same story in oil and gas, right? And so we could just repeat in geothermal the story of oil and gas, which is risk reduction and cost reduction. Technology challenges fixed, right? It’s the same story.
David Linden No, a lot of parallels. Very interesting. And we’re pretty much coming to the end of our time here because there’s never enough time to talk about subjects like this. But thank you. I mean, I do have. A kind of a closing question, if I put it in those terms, but if you had a billion dollars, you talked about a few billion or so. Where would you spend that money? So if you think about innovation that’s required, where we need to put some of the money going forward, where should some of that billion or two be spent?
Jamie Beard Oh, OK. I love it. OK, so I would launch, you know, I would help build, a structure where we’d launch five oil and gas, five competing oil and gas teams into the field over the next twenty four months with a predetermined budget to go drill first of their kind geothermal projects with a competition on who can pull the most megawatts out of their project, leveraging their own technologies, methodologies and techniques. So Chevron v. Exxon v. Shell, paired with Baker Hughes v. Schlumberger v. Halliburton, right? And go out there, and I mean, and again, like that, we’re talking about two hundred million to do something like that. And within twenty four months, then the amount of learning you would have in the oil and gas industry on, you know, cutting edge first of their kind geothermal projects would be incredibly invaluable. Like that would start that, that learning curve. And then, then we figure out what we need to do R&D on after we get the learnings from those first projects. Where were the failures? Where, you know, what do we need to fix instead of just throwing billions of dollars at random research and development? This needs to be a very targeted kind of puzzlemaster exercise, right? So let’s go drill first of their kind projects, find the pain points with entities that are squarely suited to do it. And then we solve, we fund to solve those. So the drilling project is one. I would also put a hundred million or so into a global characterization project, so we don’t have a good prospecting model for geothermal right now. A lot of it is locked up in oil and gas data that they consider proprietary. But we need global temperature at depth maps and we need rock mechanics and lithology maps. We need to be able to, a publicly available resource that you, that you go to and you say, Look, I want to drill a geothermal project near this population center in this developing nation, what’s that going to cost? And so that would be a huge public asset to have really high resolution temperature and depth maps near the world’s population. Say a 50 or 100 mile radius around the world’s population centers. And so we ran if we run a sprint on that twenty four, thirty six month sprint on that. By the time you have all of these wells drilled and all this, you know, all this excitement about drilling. You also have this prospecting map where you can just look and see where the low hanging fruit is for geothermal development in the world. And I think loosening up those two things, getting teams into the field now deployed, let’s not model, let’s not think about it, let’s not tweet about it, let’s go do it. That’s how we that’s how fracking got, you know, that’s how fracking got going, right? They modeled it, decided it didn’t work, and then people just started going out and trying to do it. And I think we’re at that point in geothermal where we need to just go out and do it. So we do those two things. I mean, we’re not even talking billions. We’re talking half a billion to get those two things done. And I think that I think that launches geothermal onto the shale, the curve of the shale boom.
David Linden OK, so we’ve got the next two years mapped out there, I think. That’s the challenge, Jamie, don’t do Pivot!
Jamie Beard Right? Yeah, that. Now we just got to go do it.
David Linden Absolutely. Absolutely. OK, wonderful. All right. Thank you so much, Jamie, it’s been a really good conversation, and I really appreciate you, I guess, sharing all those different thoughts there. So and certainly the passion has come through. So I appreciate that.
Jamie Beard I appreciate you engaging with me, David. Thanks very much.
David Linden No problem at all. And thanks everyone else for listening as well. I hope you enjoyed that conversation. Please make sure you subscribe. Give us a rating and share with your friends. Talk to you next time.
Copyright and Reproduction
This website contains material which is owned by or licensed to Westwood Global Energy Group. This material includes, but is not limited to, the design, layout, look, appearance and graphics. You may not modify, reproduce or distribute the content, design or layout of the Website, or individual sections of the content, design or layout of the Website, without our express prior written permission. For media enquiries, please contact email@example.com
Sign-up to receive alerts of new podcast episodes and the latest Energy Transition Insights newsletter
Episodes coming soon!
Managing Director, Fluence