A vision of Nevada: National energy exporter

Student plays a central role in first-of-its-kind National Geothermal Academy

6/21/2011 - By: Jason Ching
Paul Schwering measures a Nevada fault surface. Geophysics graduate student, Paul Schwering, measures a Nevada fault surface.

You can tell when someone loves what they do. When someone loves what they do, they transform the densest of details into enthralling stories, the most obscure of facts into vibrant landscapes.

For example, if you were to come across a brochure on the future of geothermal energy in Nevada, you might never see the compelling storyline unfolding underneath the feet of Nevadans across the state. In the hands of Paul Schwering, however, it's a different story.

Schwering is a geophysics graduate student and the student ambassador for the University of Nevada, Reno's National Geothermal Academy, the first such academy of its kind in the nation. The academy, which runs from June 20 through Aug. 12, offers a unique blend of geothermal-related classes.

Schwering, who helps coordinate logistics for the academy, said that the academy offers more than just individual fields of knowledge. Instead, it offers the full spectrum of disciplines required to advance the field of geothermal energy.

"To be able to get the whole picture, that's just amazing to me," Schwering said. "That's what made me say, "Sign me up," because this isn't just some bit about geology or geophysics or something, this is the whole [thing]."

The Academy is a consortium of top geothermal schools from around the country that have joined with the University, including Cornell University, Stanford University, Southern Methodist University, West Virginia University, the Oregon Institute of Technology, the University of Utah and Dartmouth. The consortium is designed to transform and grow the national energy infrastructure to utilize America's vast geothermal resource base. The academy will educate and train the next generation of scientists, engineers, plant operators and policymakers.

Before coming to the University, Schwering spent five years working in the mining and mineral exploration industry. Upon his arrival, though, he was hooked when he caught a glimpse of the unfolding world of geothermal energy.

"Geothermal energy in Nevada has tremendous potential," Schwering said. "A lot of the science is new and exciting, and that's what got me involved."

According to Schwering, Nevada has an uncommonly high amount of geothermal energy available, energy waiting to be tapped into. Nevada's geothermal reservoirs offer a continuous source of energy that is sustainable, clean, free from radiation and doesn't require burning fossil fuels. The end result presents tantalizing possibilities for Nevada.

"Nevada should be an energy exporter," Schwering said. "And geothermal should be a big part of that-and we've got geothermal in spades.

"There's no reason we can't go completely clean and even be an energy exporter."

Schwering is under no illusions that geothermal is an overnight solution. But after having seen the potential benefits that would accompany a shift from energy sources such as coal and oil to geothermal energy, he can't hide his obvious enthusiasm.

"It's a dream at this point," Schwering said. "But that's what I'm fighting for. That's why I want to be a part of this.

"If we decide to make that shift away from how we classically use energy, this is where that starts."


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