In northern Nevada, an innovative geothermal operation called Project Red, developed by Fervo, is supplying clean energy to data centers, including those operated by Google. This small-scale pilot plant produces 2 to 3 megawatts of power, demonstrating a novel geothermal approach that could potentially tap into Earth’s natural heat globally.
Unlike traditional geothermal plants relying on naturally heated water sources, Project Red utilizes an “enhanced” geothermal system (EGS), involving drilling into dry rock and employing hydraulic fracturing techniques borrowed from the oil and gas industry.
Fervo drilled two wells over 7,000 feet deep, turning fully horizontal, and connected them through fracking to create an artificial hot spring; Water pumped down one borehole resurfaces significantly hotter through the other, driving turbines to generate power — This method leverages the abundance of hot rock beneath the Earth’s surface, presenting a scalable strategy for geothermal energy production in diverse locations.
While Project Red’s output currently falls slightly short of the initial 5-megawatt estimate, the success of the experiment, with temperatures reaching 375 degrees Fahrenheit at the bottom of the boreholes during testing, signals a significant breakthrough. The Nevada site (strategically located near a traditional geothermal power plant) integrates with existing infrastructure, including turbines and power lines, facilitating seamless grid integration.
Addressing Known Challenges
This new approach addresses challenges faced by tech companies in reducing the environmental impact of power-hungry data centers. Google, having invested in Project Red two years ago, aims to power its data centers with 24/7 clean energy. Geothermal energy, particularly EGS, is seen as a leading candidate to achieve this goal, providing a continuous and reliable power source.
Michael Terrell, Senior Director for Climate and Energy at Google, emphasizes the importance of EGS as an existing technology delivering electrons, contributing to the company’s ambitious 2030 goal for 24/7 clean energy on local grids.
While EGS has inherent challenges, including high initial costs and potential seismic risks, Fervo is working on mitigating these factors through modeling based on geological data and collaboration with government-funded initiatives like FORGE in Utah.
Fervo’s next EGS project in Utah, scheduled for 2026, aims to be significantly larger at 400 megawatts, demonstrating the scalability and potential of this geothermal innovation.