CODY, WYO. (LEE)-Ed Werner used to work near a hot spring in Nevada where the water boiled hotter than the 120-degree summer days.
Werner was mining for gold, but in hindsight, the operation could have retrieved something that may become more precious in the years to come - energy.
"The geothermal potential in areas like that is astounding," Werner said. "One spring could fuel a large-scale commercial size generation plant."
Nevada isn't alone. Wyoming is considered one of the nation's hot spots for potential geothermal development, and geothermal concepts will play a role in the Wyoming Renewable Energy Conference in Cody on Sept. 12-13.
Werner, director of CANDO (the Converse Area New Development Organization), is actively exploring the state's possibilities through a U.S. Department of Energy grant, and will devote the next year to outreach and mapping the state's geothermal resources.
"Nobody in the state of Wyoming is doing anything like this," Werner said. "It became obvious to the Department of Energy that this was a great fit for Wyoming because of the resources."
This doesn't mean that energy developers are going to start drilling the geyser basins in Yellowstone National Park, he said.
"We're going to work with the University of Wyoming geology department to figure what's out there in wide open country and how this might help farmers and ranchers with their bills," Werner said.
The first steps will be in education and explanation. While geothermal concepts involve age-old principles, the applications are just now being realized.
For the most part, "geothermal" encompasses two forms of energy use - one for electrical generation and one for home heating and cooling.
The first requires a geothermal resource, like the hot spots that form a ring around Yellowstone. Basically, the heat is taken off the water, and the water is returned to the earth. Steam that blasts from the ground can drive turbines. Power plants in Iceland run on geothermal power, and Douglas Exploration in Douglas is also looking into this approach.
The second type of geothermal energy is far more common and needs no high-temperature hot spot to run - just a heat pump and Sir Isaac Newton.
Heat flows from a hotter object to a cooler one, and that the rate of heat flow is more or less proportional to the difference in their temperatures. As the earth's surface temperature remains a stable 55 degrees, a pump can be installed to take advantage of this natural "heat sink" for home heating and cooling.
"The pump uses electricity to push heat or coolness around the home, like a refrigerator," said Scott Kane, co-owner of Creative Energies in Lander.
Though the ground-source heat pump is not considered renewable energy - the electricity is often produced by traditional means such as coal and gas - it is very efficient, Kane said.
"We live in a cold environment and we spend a lot of dollars keeping homes warm in the wintertime," Kane said. "This can be very cost-effective."
Heat pumps can cost about $15,000, but there are several programs that provide incentives to interested buyers. Lower Valley Energy in Jackson provides a $3,000 rebate to customers.
But the technology is still new and there is much exploration to be done, Werner said. The conference will allow people the time to network and get information about applying these principles to their own homes.
"We're not quite sure who is doing what in the state, and we're just learning what the technology is," Werner said. "We are trying to get educated - fast."