In 1892, in Boise, ID, the energy from local hot springs was piped into buildings for the first time. By 1900, 200 homes and 40 businesses were powered this way.
In 1922, John D. Grant drilled well geysers in Arkansas, creating the United States’ first geothermal power plant. Grant used steam from the first well to build a second well, and, several wells later, the operation produced 250 kilowatts, enough electricity to light the local buildings and streets.
By 1930, Boise again was the site of a major advance: the first commercial greenhouse use of geothermal energy. The operation used a 1000-foot well. In Klamath Falls, Charlie Lieb developed the first down hole heat exchanger (DHE) to heat his house.
In 1948, Professor Carl Nielsen of the Ohio State University developed the first ground-source heat pump, for use at his residence. That same year, J.D. Krocker, an engineer in Portland, Oregon, pioneered the first commercial building use of a groundwater heat pump.
In 1970, the Geothermal Resources Council was formed to encourage development of geothermal resources worldwide. The Geothermal Steam Act was enacted, providing the Secretary of the Interior the authority to lease public lands and other federal lands for geothermal exploration and development. In 1972, The Geothermal Energy Association was formed. The association includes U.S. companies that develop geothermal resources worldwide for electrical power generation and direct-heat uses.
In 1974, The U.S. government enacted the Geothermal Energy Research, Development and Demonstration (RD&D) Act, instituting the Geothermal Loan Guaranty Program, providing investment security to public and private sectors using developing technologies to exploit geothermal resources. A year later, the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) was formed.
The Division of Geothermal Energy took over the RD&D program. The Geo-Heat Center was formed. The center, located at the Oregon Institute of Technology, disseminates information to potential users and conducts applied research on using low- to moderate-temperature geothermal resources. The U.S. Geological Survey released the first national geothermal resource estimate and inventory later that year.
Geothermal Energy History 1977 and Beyond
In 1977, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was formed. In 1978, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) was enacted. PURPA encourages the development of independent, non-utility cogeneration and small power projects by requiring electric utilities to interconnect with them.
The act resulted in the development of several water-dominated resources. In 1994, the DOE created two industry/government collaborative efforts to promote the use of geothermal energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One effort was directed toward the accelerated development of geothermal resources for electric power generation; the other toward the accelerated use of geothermal heat pumps. A DOE low-temperature resource assessment of 10 western states identified nearly 9000 thermal wells and springs at 271 communities.
By 2000, the DOE initiated its GeoPowering the West program to encourage development of geothermal resources in the western U. S.
An initial group of 21 partnerships with industry was funded to develop new technologies. Two years later, GeoPowering the West brought together representatives from industry and agencies such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to identify major barriers to geothermal development in the west.