Geological controls on geothermal resources for power generation

Egbert Jolie*, Samuel Scott, James Faulds, Isabelle Chambefort, Guðni Axelsson, Luis Carlos Gutiérrez-Negrín, Simona Regenspurg, Moritz Ziegler, Bridget Ayling, Alexander Richter, Meseret Teklemariam Zemedkun

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Threats posed by the climate crisis have created an urgent need for sustainable green energy. Geothermal resources have the potential to provide up to 150 GWe of sustainable energy by 2050. However, the key challenge in successfully locating and drilling geothermal wells is to understand how the heterogeneous structure of the subsurface controls the existence of exploitable fluid reservoirs. In this Review, we discuss how key geological factors contribute to the profitable utilization of intermediate-temperature to high-temperature geothermal resources for power generation. The main driver of geothermal activity is elevated crustal heat flow, which is focused in regions of active magmatism and/or crustal thinning. Permeable structures such as faults exercise a primary control on local fluid flow patterns, with most upflow zones residing in complex fault interaction zones. Major risks in geothermal resource assessment and operation include locating sufficient permeability for fluid extraction, in addition to declining reservoir pressure and the potential of induced seismicity. Advanced computational methods permit effective integration of multiple datasets and, thus, can reduce potential risks. Future innovations involve engineered geothermal systems as well as supercritical and offshore geothermal resources, which could greatly expand the global application of geothermal energy but require detailed knowledge of the respective geological conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-339
Number of pages16
JournalNature Reviews Earth and Environment
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2021

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