From Iceland to Alaska to France, NREL geoscientist Amanda Kolker has studied geothermal energy all around the world. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in geology, Kolker went to study volcano and glacier interactions in Iceland but was quickly distracted by Iceland’s vast geothermal energy systems.
As an earth scientist, climate change has been on Kolker’s radar for most of her life, so studying geothermal energy was the perfect combination of her interest in earth science and passion for tackling climate change. Now at NREL, Kolker has brought her global perspective to help improve our understanding of geothermal resources and expand our utilization of those resources such as for heating and cooling.
Looking Beyond Iceland
Kolker dedicated the next phase of her career to exploring for geothermal resources, earning a Ph.D. from the University of Alaska. There, she helped develop the lowest-temperature geothermal resource in the world for a combined heat and power microgrid in Alaska.
That system uses one resource to generate electricity, heat greenhouses and log cabins, and cool an ice museum. Her Ph.D. research and subsequent consulting work focused on looking at replicating that approach at other geothermal systems near remote communities in Alaska with high costs of power, high costs of heat, and low energy resilience.
Many years later, Kolker moved to France and witnessed how lower temperature geothermal resources were used for agriculture, industry, and to heat and cool districts. Many European and Asian countries use shared heating and cooling systems; studying these French systems helped Kolker bring key lessons back to the United States.