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Gwen Holdmann, vice president of new development at the Alaskan hot springs resort where the technology is being tested, says they spent $2.2 million on the UTRC geothermal power plant, and that it should pay for itself in five years. “It could even be a quicker payback if the cost of fuel keeps rising,” she suggests. Before the power plant was installed, the resort was burning $1,000 worth of diesel fuel per day to generate electricity, she says. The plant eliminates those costs and the harmful emissions from diesel generators.

Right now, geothermal power plants are located mainly in the western United States, where high-temperature steam or hot water appears naturally at the surface. Drilling wells to reach high-temperature resources deep underground can cost millions of dollars, yet still be cost-effective because they’re efficient for power generation, Richards says. So far, however, it hasn’t been economical to use lower-temperature geothermal resources for power.

But existing oil and gas wells, where electricity generated from waste hot water could run the oil pumps, would be the ideal location for the UTRC power modules, Richards says. “They’re already drilling wells, the wells are already being used, and they’re producing something that is a secondary source of energy.”

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