back to article Google flicks pennies down geothermal well

Google, the company which has conscripted everyone on the internet to be its Web 2.0 free-content providers, has decided to give something back. The firm will spend $10m - almost a thousandth of a year's ad revenues - to kickstart geothermal power. According to Google: The heat beneath the earth's surface is essentially an …


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  1. David Tebbutt


    Nothing jokey - sorry. But a major upside is, presumably, no greenhouse gases. The downside is that too much cold water going down these holes might cool the planet in a few trillenia.

  2. Tim Spence

    Cold earth

    If we start pulling all the heat out of the earth, won't it cool the core too much and accelerate it's eventual demise - ie. being a cold, dead rock?

    Like I've always said regarding wind farms - if we put too many of them up, the increased drag on the earth's rotation will slow it down so we all become shorter, and eventually implode on ourselves.

  3. Marvin the Martian

    Go do it in Iceland*!

    Given that the Icelandic currency has very recently tanked dramatically (think -40% in a quarter), giving then all the advantages of skilled recently-unemployed etc, plus their closeness to all manner of volcanism (remember Surtsey growing out of nothing), isn't that the obvious place? Like send the money now, before their bank recovers, and let them dig there (not too deep)?

    (*not the supermarket, the country --- do they have a food store called "england"?)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And $10m will get them what exactly

    As you say they're probably not taking it seriously. It could all be a publicity stunt, "look at how seriously we take environmental issues we're spending $10m on it" which will attract positive attention from the less intelegent who don't realise that Google probably spent more than that on strawberry muffins last week.

    Lets be fair ten million bucks probably won't even drill you your first hole to 10km let alone go any further.

    Hopefully the popular media will, rather than falling for the positive spin, find some "expert" who will accuse Google of endangering the planet by risking earthquakes or some such scaremongering.

  5. jsg

    Not exactly a fusion dream.

    I'm not sure what Google's game plan is other than good PR.

    But on the topic of Geothermal Energy itself... it is extremely promising.

    MIT wrote a very detailed article how EGS can work in United States.

    You can find it in geothermals wikipedia article,

    The long and short of it is that, is would be green energys silver bullet, exept for one problem. Actually getting down there where the heat is. Drilling is insanely expensive and thats what puts it off.

    National Geographic featured a documentary on Geothermal Energy. And it mentioned a technology thats still under development, called a Flame Jet Drill .

    If that can become sold commercially, it would solve the last problem with EGS.

    Back in the 80's 8 geothermal plants powered the entire mass of San Francisco's power needs, producing more than two nuclear power stations.

    Read MIT's article and look it up. Long term, Geothermal is the best answer there is.

  6. fishman


    If enough heat is extracted, could there be thermal stresses created that would result in more frequent earthquakes?

  7. Beelzeebub


    Don't send cold water down here!

    I dont want hell to freeze over.

  8. Dave


    "if geothermal worked it would be almost without downsides"

    Apart from the fact that it might crack the entire planet in half, and/or create a new Volcano in an undesirable location and/or prematurely cool the earth's core, stopping its rotation; leading to catastrophic effects...

  9. Anonymous Coward

    If the idea works ...

    ... then Google could be in very hot water indeed !

  10. Duffy

    The little known plan...

    Yes geo energy is there and in use but what Google should do is build it's own power plant. Just like Virgin Air is trying to do with it's new biodiesel jets, our G friends can lead the way with geo energy.

    Besides doesn't Google need the money it'll earn to one day buy out or "silence" all competitors/protesters?

  11. Adrian

    How does the water come back up ?

    If you pump water out of the drill bit in the hope of causing mini-earthquakes, do you have to use smart water to tell it to come home once it warmed up ? Hopefully it will be kept away from the cold water coming down and it'll be shifted earth bound in a speedy fashion else it will have cooled down again at the surface pump.

    This might be one of those "lets build the plant 10km underground, where the heat is" type of Hollywood plots. I'm sure the underground alien/molemen-hybrids won't mind us invading their patch.

  12. A J Stiles

    Obvious Consequence

    Geothermal energy is not renewable.

    If we cool down the Earth's molten core sufficiently, it will eventually solidify, contract and rattle around like a walnut in its shell until it bursts through.

  13. Tim Spence
    Thumb Up

    RE Aaaargh!!

    "I dont want hell to freeze over."

    Thank you for the first genuine guffaw I've had this week! I've also made many a promise, on the premise it'll never happen... :)

  14. Anonymous Coward

    @Not exactly a fusion dream.

    Spot on - about 10 years ago, someone did a geothermal proof of concept down in Cornwall. In the first year, they almost got enough electricity out to power the site (enough portakabin space for 4-5 people, a kettle, handful of computers etc). By the end of the second year, they had enough to power all the farms around them, plus 80% of the local villages demand. Maintenance and running costs and so-on were virtually zero.

    But then you find out that they took advantage of a natural fissure in the rock and didn't have to do a lot of drilling to get there, and the project lead admitted that there were probably only 4 sites in the uk that "easy to set up", and none of them were much larger. So, it's the drilling...

    For all those of you worried about the potential side effects (cooling the planetary core, causing earthquakes, or cooling hell), then it's worth pointing out that geothermal systems are essentially static in terms of volume and pressure and the heat recovered is insignificant compared with what is actually down there.

    Humans have done a lot more geological damage by oil, mineral, gas and water extraction. There are some hints that our over-use of water aquifers may have slightly affected the odds of earthquakes occurring in some areas, but our dumping of CO2 and Nitrogen into the biosphere, deforestation and building programs are having a much more significant effect then powering the entire planet on geothermal ever would. Just don't build them really close to major fault lines, and they'll be fine.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Go back a bit further

    The early 80's in fact; and there was a pilot plant working in Kent; I dont remember the details, but I do remember it being was being used as an example of a successful alternative energy generator.

    It was run by a University and had government money backing it, the bloke talking about it at the seminar I was attending was some eco-suit from Whitehall.

    You need to drill two holes, input and output; pump cold water down one and hook the other up to a steam turbine.

    Google, if you are reading this, you can use my back garden as long as I get the free leccy!!!!

  16. goggyturk

    Good idea, but...

    "National Geographic featured a documentary on Geothermal Energy. And it mentioned a technology thats still under development, called a Flame Jet Drill ."

    Yup indeed, plasma drilling is something that's being experimented with just now and has the potential ability to revolutionise drilling. Only problem is it's years away from being a viable technology.

    The basic technology for geothermal tech (drilling and completing wells, fraccing, recovering hot fluids to surface) has been tried and tested in the oil industry for many years now, even in hot, deep reservoirs. I suspect the main issue will be with actually circulating and heating the water at a high enough rate up and down the hole to make it economically viable for the astronomical expenditure required up front for all this hi-tech kit (at least from a drilling perspective).

  17. Simpson


    Shut yellowstone and build a giant electric plant over it.

    We might lose yellowstone, but we will save hell.

  18. John Colby

    Hot Dry Rock

    If you type "Hot Dry Rock" into google (where else) you'll find loads of information about the technology.

    And 20 years ago they got it working in Cornwall.

  19. Ian Michael Gumby


    Simple little physics equation.

    As long as you have gravity, you will have "hot" rocks at a certain depth.

    You are not drilling down to the mantel.

    And if you didn't take high school physics, keeping volume constant, the greater the pressure, the greater the temperature. So the deeper you go, the greater the pressure on the rocks, so the greater the temperature.

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Noddy's guide to geothermal

    You drill two holes that almost meet a long way down. Drop some bombs down each hole to make some cracks. Some of the cracks will intersect, so when you pump cold water down one hole, you get hot water out of the other one.

    The good news 1: we will have cheap fusion centuries before we make a measurable difference to the earth's core temperature.

    Good news 2: Hot pressurised water dissolves silica, which comes out of solution inside the turbine. Over time, if you clean out the silica regularly, you can make a really huge sand castle. (What do you mean? Why don't you want a huge sand castle in your backyard?)

    Good news 3: Rock is not all that thermally conductive. If you pump out heat too quickly, the temperature falls in a small area around the expensive holes you just drilled. To get more energy, you could drill more holes or drill further apart and use much bigger bombs! Where is Guy Fawkes when you need him?

    Bad news: The UK is on a thick bit of the earth's crust. You would have to drill 20km here to find a useful amount of heat. Like most sources of renewable energy, you are better of building elsewhere. If you are worried about buying oil and gas from Arabs and Russians, you can get some hydroelectric from Wales, some wind from Scotland, solar from ... Libya, geothermal from Iceland or nuclear from France.

  22. Anonymous Coward


    Is Google drilling in Mountain View? They can probably suck up enough leaked gasoline, chip fab solvents, and garbage methane to power generators. Silicon Valley has vent pipes sticking out of the ground to prevent explosions and ground water contamination. The business park I'm in now has arrays of ground vents, methane alarms, and a strict "no outside fires" rule.

  23. Mart
    Paris Hilton

    Google's secret plan?

    This is all a front to plant a nuclear warhead near the earth's core and hold the world ransom for "1 MILLION dollars!"

    -ph cos she's as hot as "liquid hot 'magma'"

  24. Damien Hocking
    Thumb Up

    Being done in Australia

    Pretty cool stuff. Expensive to drill through granite though.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    MP Power

    After all, Whitehall generate mega-watts worth of hot air, why not harness that????

    Having said that, I still think the greatest untapped and renewable energy supply we have is small children, just give them a giant hamster wheel connected to a turbine and away you go!!!!

    Paris, cos she's really good and getting things steamed up.

  26. Anonymous Coward


    "revolutionise drilling"??

  27. Rick Damiani

    Cooling the earth = not

    "The downside is that too much cold water going down these holes might cool the planet in a few trillenia."

    The heat in the mantle and core of the earth comes from tidal forces (gravity) and is continuously generated by the combined action of the moon and the sun.

  28. Fred

    Its all back to front....

    The problem is not drilling holes, or even making more power for more people to use; what we need is a human cull! If we reduce ours numbers to match ALL of our resources then we can manage just fine..... lets start with those who keep pushing for bigger,faster and better!

  29. Gilbert Wham

    Absolutely, Fred old top

    Can we start with you?

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Geothermal Heat Sources

    Some geothermal heat sources draw heat from the mantle ("hot spots") but most of it is generated from tectonic plate movements. In many cases, and specifically in Australia, the heat in question comes from rocks with diffuse radioactive material which decays over time generating 200+ deg. C - that's the heat to be extracted, typically 3-5km from the surface. There are NO ISSUES AT ALL with leaking radioactivity, as some (dare I say, pro-fossil fuel lobbyist) people erroneously state.

    As much as folk* will want to pontificate about this and that, the main point is, as with fusion, clean coal, wind and large-scale solar, etc., it needs to be demonstrated on a suitable scale. And, actually, that's probably not far off.

    "Why hasn't it been done before?" is a question asked often. The answer is mostly that the political and the economic environment necessary to attract R&D and investment capital has not been favourable. That is now changing.

    (* I'm being very kind leaving it at "folk").

  31. Tim Bates

    Re: How does the water come back up?

    Uh... pressure and another hole? Pretty much in the same way steam engines work, only with the boiler way underground.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Can I research this in Hawaii? I hear they have some nice hot rocks pretty close to, if not above, the surface .

    Damn someone beat me to it...

  33. b166er

    Once again

    Looking for a solution on the massive scale.

    The heat pump has been around for a long time. Rather than generating massive amounts of power in a central location and then using an expensive network to distribute it, wouldn't it be better that each premise generated its own energy?

    But then of course, they couldn't charge us a fortune for supplying it!

  34. Steve
    Thumb Down


    A heat pump is a net user of energy, it doesn't generate it. All you're doing with a heat pump is chilling your garden slightly in order to heat your house.

    It doesn't sound very practical for every house to drill two 3km holes in order to generate their own power.

  35. Tony Barry
    Jobs Halo

    Like fusion?

    Geothermal ... requires the right geology. In some places it will work. In many places it won't be economic to drill deep holes. In some places it won't be safe (will precipitate earth tremors).

    Fusion ... well, ITER's costing an arm and a leg (USD9e9 ? something like that). Personally, I cannot see this as an economic solution without some serious engineering breakthroughs and enormous cost reductions.

    Personally I'm hoping Robert Bussard's polywell works out. It might just save our bacon.

    Steve, because he makes clever things that work.

  36. xjy
    Paris Hilton

    Iceland again

    There's enough free geothermal energy in Iceland, both near the surface and even more under it to supply Europe and North America for ever - given the high voltage direct current transmission technologies being worked on and trialled for the transfer of solar energy from the Sahara to Europe.

    The water pumped up to the surface in Reykjavik frinstance is so hot (due to pressure - over 120C and probably more - can't remember offhand) that it needs to be diluted considerably with cold water to be usable by us lot in baths etc.

    Similar colossal supplies would easily be able to power other continents - and to supply even more energy for more research on other methods of energy production, leading to a basically infinite supply of energy for all humanity. This would kill off private ownership of resources and commodity production for good.

    (Paris cos of the earthy heat she generates...)

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Turbines?!?! Such old tech...

    Ever heard of a Stirling Engine guys! Sunpower are getting some really good rates from these now. and with Nasa considering them (Testing at Cleveland whatever its called this week) they are looking like a really feasible method of converting Heat to Electricity without wasting vast amounts of heat to condesing cooling. (and putting it directly into the Atmosphere!) Stirling Engines are perfect wherever a temerature differential already exists.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    @Tim Spence - Cold Earth...

    If your frighted of that just try and work out what the moon is doing to us.. Each Day is becoming longer as the Moons Pull is slowly braking the earths spin (Tidal Breaking) This is because the Energy of the Tide Comes from the Earths Rotational Momentum! Fortunatly there is a lot of Energy There! however one day the earth will become graviationlly Locked to the Moon (like the moon is to us, always the same side faces us - it isnt just a coincedence!)

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Heat pumps... Already a known eco thing

    Eco villages etc are already supposed to use heat pumps to save energy. They work on the same concept, except they are not as extreme as what Google proposes.

    Geothermal energy is widely used in Iceland and other countries where natural vents allow this.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Cooling the earth = not

    re: "The heat in the mantle and core of the earth comes from tidal forces (gravity) and is continuously generated by the combined action of the moon and the sun."

    Absolute rubbish. Might be true for bodies like Io, but not something as massive as Earth. By that logic the reciprocal forces of the Earth on the moon should mean that the moon is near-liquid.

    Which it ain't.

    So you're wrong.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    if geothermal worked it would be almost without downsides

    ... apart from the rapid cooling of the interior of our planet, giving yet more turbulence to an unstable and damaged system.

    Is it me or does this sound like a recipe for a planet sized bomb?

  42. Anonymous Coward

    Unlimited Resource

    "The heat beneath the earth's surface is essentially an unlimited resource"

    Um, actually no.

    In the Rotorua district of North Island New Zealand, this technique has been used for many many decades. Rotorua is an area of exceptional geothermal activity and draws hordes of tourists as a result.

    Unfortunately it turns out that the constant injection of cool water needed to produce steam into both domestic heating systems and the local geothermal power station has cooled the area sufficiently that geothermal activity at some of the major tourist puller sites has started to die down.


  43. Anonymous Coward

    Thanks for nothing

    Thanks to the stupid, sniggering schoolboy subtitle, I can't share this otherwise interesting and well-written article with approximately 50% of humanity even though they're not in the Jolt-swilling, pizza-scarfing, job-dwelling, gadget-obsessed, hip-and-with-it, totally happening fabgear demographic that you probably tout to your advertisers.

    Don't you Register people have mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts etc.?


  44. rick buck

    still looking for HEAT?

    While I understand the concept of using

    "Free Heat" to drive turbines, and generate power...

    It still Boggles My Mind to think...

    Are'nt we suffering from GLOBAL WARMING already!

    We Need A Source Of Power...

    That Does NOT Generate Massive Amounts Of Heat In The Process!


  45. John Foster
    Thumb Up

    City Water is Warm Enuff

    Just put heat pumps in each and every room of the house, and be sure to connect them up to the City water supply. Yep, it is being done right now by Demarco....

    In new subdivisions you can install a separte underground line apart from domestic water supply...

    Demarco is the licensed trading arm of Encore Energy



  46. jsg

    Cooling down the earth?

    Even if you covered every square inch of this earth with geothermal power stations, you would make an insignificant little dent in the earths core temperature.

    The entire mass that we and all life lives on (the crust) is only 1% mass of the earth. Its tiny. The boundary of the crust is only 10km down, then another 50km if you include the tectonic plates. That temperature alone is 1,000 °C (1,800 °F).

    When the mantle reaches the core it gets even hotter. 4,000 °C (7,200 °F) .

    Sorry for the science lesson, but theres simply no way we can "drain" the heat of the earth to nothing.

    Sure EGS is expensive. But Nuclear power stations are too and they are far more dangerous.

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