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DOE, Google invest in volcano power

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The Department of Energy and Google are financing a geothermal energy project in Central Oregon that will attempt to harness steam power by pumping millions of gallons of water into a dormant volcano.

(Image Source: Altarock Energy)

A dormant volcano in Central Oregon could one day become a source of clean geothermal energy. A pilot project will begin this summer to determine whether it’s feasible, according to reports.

Seattle’s AltaRock Energy and Davenport Newberry Holdings of Stamford Connecticut are overseeing the project, which is receiving US$43 million in funding from the Department of Energy and Google.

Engineers intend to pump 24 million gallons of water into the side of the volcano to produce steam. The project will be considered a success if the steam created is useful for generating electricity at an acceptable cost.

Volcano power seems novel, but it has been supplying clean energy to communities in Central America for many years. The Bouillante geothermal plant on Guadeloupe has been operating since 1986. St. Lucia and Martinique began a 120 megawatts project last year.

Google’s interest in the project is clear: it needs a low cost energy source for its datacenters. Powering Web server infrastructure -not just the actual hardware itself - can the biggest roadblock to datacenter rollouts.

Achieving greater energy efficiency and investments in renewable electricity are two ways that this cost driver is being addressed. Google has invested around $1 billion in renewable power projects; Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have also taken forays into clean energy.

Video: AltaRock Energy's geothermal project explained

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure