Renewable energy can be a tricky business. If you’re not dealing with the intermittency of solar or wind power, you might struggle with some of geothermal’s more complex issues. For example, older geothermal plants rely on steam output that can diminish over time or harm the plant’s turbine components. Or, a geothermal plant can damage the subterranean aquifer that it’s taking hot water (called brine) from. Or, if the geothermal plant is air-cooled, a particularly hot day can reduce the plant’s efficiency.
To combat all of these issues, Italian renewable energy company Enel Green Power has been working to make its geothermal resources in Fallon, Nevada, and Cove Fort, Utah, more efficient by combining them with other renewable power sources. In its most recent endeavor in Cove Fort, Enel cleverly combines hydroelectric power with geothermal power for the first time in North America.
Usually, geothermal plants pump mineral-rich brine up from areas of hot rock beneath the surface of the Earth, convert that heat to energy, and then re-inject that water back into the ground to heat back up again. The re-injection process is usually as simple as it sounds—just put the water back in the ground where you found it once it cools. Instead, Enel is harnessing power from all that falling water. Brian Stankiewicz, Enel’s Senior Operations Manager for geothermal and solar operations, told Ars that the company realized it “had an exponential amount of hydraulic energy that could be harnessed” shortly after it bought the defunct plant in 2007.