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Google and Aussies to Sink Millions Into Geothermal Energy

The hunt for renewable energy took a turn beneath the earth’s surface over the past week as Google and the Australian government announced multi-million dollar plans to explore geothermal technology.

Google’s philanthropic arm plans to put $10.25 million toward Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology. That includes a $6.25 million investment with AltaRock Energy, a $489,521 grant to the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory, and a $4 million investment in Potter Drilling.

The technology mimics conventional geothermal, which relies on finding and using pockets of steam or hot water. EGS instead fractures hot rock and generating steam for electricity by circulating water through the system.

According to Google, the U.S. is showing up late to the worldwide geothermal party. In 2008, the U.S. geothermal program funding rings in at $20 million -- only twice as much as Google’s latest investment round through its Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative.

Geothermal has the potential to satisfy the world’s energy needs many times over, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A recent report estimated that 2 percent of the heat between 3-10 kilometers beneath the U.S. surpasses the country’s energy use by more than 2,500 times.

Australia and the European Union now lead the race, Google said. According to Australia, about 1 percent of the heat underground its territory could generate 26,000 years worth of energy.

The government plans to spend $50 million (US$42 million) pursuing geothermal and drilling project to test various technologies. The first commercial geothermal power plant could begin operating in four to five years, Reuters reported.

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