Geothermal: The Other Alternative Energy

We hear a lot about solar and wind power, but there is not much public attention on geothermal energy. That may soon change.

Jul 12, 2014 at 11:06AM

With a growing movement to adopt more sustainable energy solutions, investors may be interested in knowing that geothermal fields produce just one-sixth of the carbon dioxide that a clean natural-gas-fueled power plant produces, and this energy production is seen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the most efficient, clean, and cost effective for temperature control. Considering the growing movement to become energy independent and lower carbon output, there is no better time to explore the benefits of geothermal power. 

While I'm a huge fan of wind and solar applications, they are intermittent, and energy storage solutions are still a concern. This has me thinking there is room for geothermal to wiggle itself into the renewable conversation without the need to depend entirely on storage solutions.

Why now? It is increasingly getting harder and harder to avoid the topic of climate change, so tapping a constant source of power that will generate little if any greenhouse gases is becoming hard to overlook, especially with so much uncertainty regarding the fate of nuclear power in this country. Therefore, rather than using more coal to offset rising natural gas prices, we should be tapping geothermal power. 

What's the risk to geothermal power? In reality, it's the fear of the unknown and unwarranted concerns that eventually some tapped locations may cool down, and angst associated with tapping these hotspots and releasing toxic fluids (i.e., hydrogen sulfide). Clearly the latter needs to be examined more, but the good news is more efficient drilling technologies may soon alleviate those concerns at a time when the U.S. is trying to further lower its dependence on fossil fuels. That means geothermal power must no longer be viewed as the illegitimate step-child of renewable energy. This point is supported by a smaller footprint to develop geothermal versus solar or wind farms, and geothermal being a 24/7 base-load power source that in many cases has generated heat since prehistoric times. 

Stocks in the space to watch
A move to more swiftly embrace geothermal energy would likely be great for industry giant Ormat Technologies (NYSE:ORA), which has geothermal projects in Nevada, Hawaii, California, and Kenya and recently received big supply contracts in Indonesia.

Ormat is trying to sell up to a 49% stake in a few of its U.S. power plants, so any action on that front would further reduce overall operating costs. With so much positive momentum in the geothermal space, I'm thinking Ormat, which has a ton of geothermal intellectual property and proven low water usage at power plants, is looking to leverage its 30-year experience in the space and be more of an equipment and service provider to its customers.

More speculative plays include U.S. Geothermal, which will hold its annual meeting on July 14 in Idaho, Alterra Power, a company that could announce a new credit facility in Q314, and Ram Power, a name that recently released less than favorable results for its San Jacinto-Tizate Power Plan. 

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John Licata has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ormat Technologies. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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