The Geysers, Northern California Geothermal Power Station

Geothermal energy in Northern California
Geothermal energy in Northern California

This California Geothermal Power Station has been Generated Clean Electricity Since 1958.

The Geysers geothermal field is located in Northern California, about 115 kilometers north of San Francisco. It has been supplying electric power for the last fifty years. This makes it the third longest existing geothermal field after the Wairakeli field in New Zealand (Since 1958) and the Lardarello geothermal field in Italy.

Since the 1970s, thanks to innovation in the industry, the geysers have produced more power continuously than any other geothermal.

The Geysers geothermal energy plant in Northern California

The Geysers geothermal energy plant in Northern California

How it works

The geothermal field covers about 117 square kilometers spreading over the counties of Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma. There are currently more than 350 wells drilled for steam production, with some as deep as three kilometers. The steam tapped from these wells is supplied via pipes to nearby interconnected power plants. The steam is used to turn turbines, which turn generators for electricity production.

Geothermal electricity generation form The Geysers in Northern California accounts for nearly 20% of all installed green energy in California. The Geysers have an electricity output of about one thousand five hundred megawatts of electricity. Geothermal energy is one of the most reliable source of power in California, experiencing very few dips in supply, if any. The plant is expected to continue to be a reliable source of green energy for at least another five more decades. Its expected long life in geothermal energy production makes this field stand out in the geothermal electricity generation industry.

The underground water reservoir responsible for the steam is regularly recharged. Treated waste water is pumped into the ground thus increasing electricity generation. The waste water is sourced from over 50 miles away using pipes from the Lake County water treatment plant. Injecting water into the geyser has the added advantage of protecting local waterways apart from boosting electricity generation.

Turbulent History of the Geysers

Less than three decades ago, the future of geothermal energy production at The Geysers faced an uncertain future. During this period of uncertainty, power generation capacity was on a strictly competitive basis without the exchange of technical information. Lack of standard contracts had threatened to derail power production at the site. This meant that power producers did not have any incentive to produce more power. The lack of information sharing led some developers to construct power plants at the edge of the field, which did not yield any power. In addition, federal and state policy was quite fragmented. The situation was only salvage when all the plants were consolidated under single management (Calpine Corporation) and pricing streamlined to offer incentives for increased production.

Lessons learned from Geothermal Energy.

A number of important lessons can be learned from geothermal electricity generation at The Geysers. These lessons can be applied to a wide array of other renewable energy sources in order to make them profitable. Exchange of information is essential to avoid resource wastage and promote faster development of these technologies. Furthermore, there is need for a favorable regulatory environment that supports the development of renewable energy. With these few lessons already learned from The Geysers on utilizing green energy, then renewable energy may have a chance as a reliable source of energy to power the future.


About Gordon Smith
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.

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