Monday, April 5, 2010

Sologen Systems avoids hype as high potential geothermal electrical generation project moves forward

Frank Smith, the president of Sologen Systems Inc has a secret of sorts, not a complete secret but a kind of lets not talk about this too much too soon secret.  He did put out a press release on December 31, 2009.  He speaks openly with potential investors and is working through numerous levels of regulators. He even spoke to the Alamo Group of the Sierra Club, and those people really do like to blab about what interests them. But he speaks conservatively.  He chooses numbers from the low end of the ranges that the engineers and oil and gas geologists have developed.  He doesn't oversell. 

Smith's semi-secret is that Sologen with Green Well Power LLC and Free Green Energy LLC propose to harness the high temperatures and pressure found at the bottom of some abandoned natural gas wells which are deeper than 10,000 feet to produce kinetic energy which will power a linear drive engine to produce electricity. 

When the number of appropriate wells in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi is multiplied by the conservatively stated potential electrical production of each well, the mind boggles.  The numbers and the implications of the numbers are just too big to grasp and to accept, until they become fact, and that is why the Mr. Smith prefers to keep things quiet for now.

It isn't just the amount of electricity that is hard to grasp.  It is how ideal the project is in other aspects.  In our nation’s energy debates we often discuss environmental trade-offs but the Sologen project seems to involve no such trade-offs.

For instance, this energy production produces no significant greenhouse gases.  Its visual impact is minimal.  It produces power in dispersed locations which is in line with the direction our electrical grid is moving.  It blocks no rivers.  It disturbs no migrating birds and no more wild life than the wells themselves did during their producing years.

The estimated cost of these geothermal generators is far below almost any other source of renewable power (except conservation of course).   It is cheaper than any other widely dispersed geothermal energy source in part because they utilize abandoned wells.  These wells cost millions to drill but are now worthless environmental liabilities.  So this energy producing project can mitigate a potential for contamination that has been known for decades.

The power producing wells require no trainloads of fuel.  No mountains need to be removed, no streams are filled in, no air is polluted.  No radioactivity is utilized.  No great lakes of water are needed to cool them.  No army of technicians and security standby to monitor and prevent disaster.

Perhaps best of all the wells produce baseload power, which means it produces whether or not the sun shines or the winds blow and it is a black start source of power which means it is able to be restarted to produce power without relying on power from the electrical grid.  These two characteristics alone make it superior from a utility point of view. 

The project faces hurdles.  Regulators of oil and gas, underground water, environmental issues, electrical production, landowners, oil and and gas rights holders and all the regulators involved in long term investments must be satisfied.

We may see the first fruits of the Sologen project very soon.   If it comes to fruition it will upend a lot of assumptions about renewable energy put forward by the nuclear, coal and gas industries.  It will be a boon to those of us lucky enough to have the right kind of abandoned well  in our region, and will perhaps become the bedrock of power hungry industry.  If it comes to fruition it will be big.  It will be cover of Time Magazine big.  It will be senators claiming they are responsible for it big.

But for now let's keep it our sort of secret and help Frank Smith avoid the hype.

(Frank Smith spoke briefly at our March 2010 San Antonio Sustainable Living meeting.  My earlier SASL article includes the Sologen press release and a video of the linear drive engine and demonstrates an almost complete lack of understanding of the project on my part.)

Photo by Clearly Ambiguous via Flickr (creative commons).

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