Exciting Developments in Utah’s Renewable Energy Production
Last month, The Western Way released a report demonstrating the considerable economic impact renewable energy development has in Utah. Reviewing 31 projects in 11 rural Utah counties, researchers found that in the past few years, renewable energy projects have contributed an astounding $5.3 billion in total economic output and employed more than 9,000 Utahns.
Unlike fossil fuels, which require millions of years to get to a point where we can use them, renewable energy comes from sources—such as sun, geothermal, wind, and water—that are naturally replaced on a human timescale. In recent years, Utah has invested in multiple projects that support commercial energy production from renewables. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2020, 14% of Utah’s total electricity generation was from a renewable source.
No surprise for our sunny state, solar energy is number one on Utah’s list of renewable sources. Our state ranks tenth in the nation for its ability to generate solar electricity, and new solar facilities, either completed or in development, are putting our state on track to dramatically increase our capacity. Since 2015, almost all (97%) of Utah’s new electricity generating capacity—whether through renewable or non-renewable sources—is powered by solar energy.
Both hydropower and wind energy also make significant contributions to our state’s total renewable output. However, it is developments in geothermal energy that show particular promise. By taking advantage of the temperature difference between the earth’s core and its surface, geothermal energy can be used to heat, cool, or generate electricity. Theoretically, the earth’s geothermal resources could supply the world’s energy needs. But in practice, commercial geothermal projects today are primarily limited to locations, such as naturally-occurring hot springs and volcanic areas, which provide readily available sources of heat, water or steam, and permeable rocks—all of which are necessary for energy production.
As one of only seven states with utility-scale electricity generated from geothermal sources, Utah is third in the nation for geothermal power production. In addition to three geothermal facilities, Utah is home to an exciting experimental lab that seeks new technologies to make commercial geothermal energy production possible almost anywhere in the world.
Located near Milford, UTAH FORGE provides a controlled environment in which researchers from the University of Utah Energy and Geoscience Institute and others can develop and test the tools necessary for creating the conditions found in natural geothermal areas. Called Enhanced Geothermal Systems, or EGS, these engineered reservoirs could produce energy from locations that currently are not feasible because of a lack of water or permeability. If UTAH FORGE and other projects are successful, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates “a 40-fold increase over present geothermal power generating capacity.” This is an encouraging number for a domestic energy source that the Department calls “clean, reliable, and proven.”
Of course, fossil fuels remain a critical component of Utah’s energy portfolio—in 2020, no less than 86 percent of our state’s total net electricity generation was powered by coal and natural gas. It is those industries, rather than the ones based on renewable sources, that will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that Utah residents receive the consistent utility service they’ve come to expect. Energy from renewable sources may, however, help utility companies meet the increasing demands from a state population that has the highest growth rate in the nation. In the 105 years since Industrial Supply Company’s founding, we have proudly supported the different players in the energy industry, and we will continue to monitor major developments in the field.