Projections of Technology Improvements

For geothermal, as for other renewable energy electric supply technologies, the "accuracy" of projections o f improvement s in cost effectiveness are very important because in many instances, use of the technologies at specifi c locations will not be cost effective until the technologies are improved somewhat. The projections for improvement s in the cost and performance of hydrothermal and HDR technologies are a synthesis of what various experts believe i s possible.

The projections for improvements in hydrothermal technology are based on trends in performance and cost since about 1985 when U.S. firms first started constructing many hydrothermal power systems. It has been apparent that for both wells and power plants, the earliest forms of the technologies -- borrowed more or less wholly from other industrie s and uses -- have been constantly analyzed, rethought, and improved. The past five years especially have seen muc h new attention focused on how to improve the cost effectiveness of power plants, through changes in the underlyin g process cycles and conditions used to convert heat to electricity.

The single major exception to this ten-year (1985-1995) trend of apparent improvements has been in the area of industry's ability to locate and target, in many reservoirs, high-permeability zones for fluid collection and delivery. But here too, constant theoretical progress is being made, that is soon likely to engender practical progress.

The estimates for current and projected HDR cost and performance are more speculative than those for hydrotherma l technology since HDR technology is much less mature and has not been applied commercially. Therefore, there i s greater uncertainty in the HDR technology estimates. With HDR technology, the stated estimates are for the best cost and performance that is reasonably possible; the estimated uncertainty values reflect the possibility of lowe r performance and less improvement in the technology.

The projections are predicated on various assumptions about factors that will affect the timing and extent o f improvements in the technologies. These include the levels of funding for hydrothermal and HDR R&D in severa l countries, as well as fossil fuel drilling and well completion R&D, supply and demand in electricity markets, suppl y and demand in petroleum markets (this greatly influences drilling costs and private funding of drilling research), public policy (especially regarding energy and the environment) in several countries, currency fluctuations, and technological progress in other electric supply technologies.

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