Community-Owned Geothermal Projects

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Community-owned geothermal projects involve local communities owning and managing geothermal energy systems, typically for direct-use applications such as heating, cooling, and hot water production. This approach empowers communities to utilize local geothermal resources, promoting energy independence, economic development, and local decision-making.

Impact on climate action

Community-Owned Geothermal Projects in the Geothermal Energy sector democratize renewable energy access and promote local resilience. By fostering community engagement and ownership, these projects stimulate sustainable development, reduce carbon emissions, and accelerate the transition to a clean energy future, mitigating climate change impacts at the grassroots level.


  • Direct-Use Geothermal Systems: These systems directly utilize geothermal fluids for heating, cooling, and hot water production without the need for electricity generation.
  • Geothermal Heat Pumps: Geothermal heat pumps can be used to extract heat from the ground for heating purposes or to transfer heat to the ground for cooling purposes.
  • District Heating and Cooling (DHC) Systems: Geothermal energy can be used to power DHC systems, providing heating and cooling to multiple buildings or communities through a network of pipes.
  • Community Ownership and Management: The geothermal system is owned and managed by the local community, either directly or through a cooperative or other community-based organization.
  • Participatory Decision-Making: Community members are involved in the planning, development, and operation of the geothermal project, ensuring that it meets the needs and priorities of the community.
  • Local Economic Development: Community-owned geothermal projects can generate revenue for the community, create local jobs, and support other economic development initiatives.
  • Environmental Sustainability: Community-owned projects often prioritize environmental sustainability, implementing measures to minimize impacts on water resources and land use.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Modular and Scalable Geothermal Systems: Modular and prefabricated geothermal systems are making it easier and more affordable for communities to develop and install geothermal energy systems.
  • Low-Temperature Geothermal Resource Utilization: Utilizing low-temperature geothermal resources for direct-use applications can be cost-effective and efficient, especially for space heating and hot water production.
  • Community Financing Models: Innovative financing models, such as crowdfunding and community investment funds, are being developed to support community-owned geothermal projects.
  • Capacity Building and Training Programs: Programs are being implemented to provide communities with the knowledge and skills needed to develop, operate, and maintain geothermal energy systems.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Direct-Use Geothermal Systems
  • Geothermal Heat Pumps for Local Heating and Cooling
  • District Heating and Cooling (DHC) Networks
  • Participatory Decision-Making Processes
  • Modular and Scalable Geothermal Systems
  • Utilizing Low-Temperature Geothermal Resources
  • Capacity Building and Training Initiatives
  • Support from Geothermal Organizations
  • Sustainable Business Models for Community Projects
  • Case Studies of Successful Implementations
  • Lessons from Global Geothermal Leaders
  • Policy Support for Community-Owned Projects

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. Geothermal Resources Council (GRC):
    • Technology Enhancement: The Geothermal Resources Council (GRC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting geothermal energy development worldwide. While not a startup or company in the traditional sense, it plays a crucial role in advancing geothermal technology and facilitating community-owned geothermal projects. GRC provides resources, networking opportunities, and technical expertise to support the development and implementation of geothermal projects, including community-owned initiatives.
    • Uniqueness of the Organization: GRC stands out for its extensive network of geothermal professionals, researchers, policymakers, and industry stakeholders. It serves as a platform for knowledge sharing, collaboration, and advocacy, driving innovation and best practices in geothermal energy development. Through conferences, publications, and outreach activities, GRC promotes community engagement and participation in geothermal projects.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: GRC’s activities benefit a wide range of stakeholders involved in geothermal energy, including communities, project developers, utilities, government agencies, and investors. By fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange, GRC helps empower communities to explore and pursue community-owned geothermal projects, contributing to sustainable energy development and local economic growth.
  2. International Geothermal Association (IGA):
    • Technology Enhancement: The International Geothermal Association (IGA) is a global non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the sustainable use of geothermal energy. Like GRC, IGA is not a startup or company but serves as a key player in advancing community-owned geothermal projects. It provides a platform for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and capacity building in geothermal energy development, supporting community initiatives around the world.
    • Uniqueness of the Organization: IGA stands out for its international reach and diverse membership, encompassing geothermal professionals, researchers, policymakers, and advocates from over 60 countries. It facilitates dialogue and cooperation among stakeholders, fosters innovation and best practices, and advocates for policies that promote community involvement and ownership in geothermal projects.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: IGA’s activities benefit communities, project developers, utilities, governments, and other stakeholders involved in geothermal energy. By providing resources, expertise, and networking opportunities, IGA empowers communities to explore and implement community-owned geothermal projects, fostering sustainable energy development and resilience.
  3. REN21 (Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century):
    • Technology Enhancement: REN21 is a global multi-stakeholder network dedicated to advancing renewable energy deployment and policy development. While not focused solely on geothermal energy, REN21 plays a vital role in promoting community-owned renewable energy projects, including geothermal initiatives. It provides research, advocacy, and capacity-building support to governments, businesses, and civil society organizations working to expand access to clean and affordable energy.
    • Uniqueness of the Organization: REN21 stands out for its comprehensive approach to renewable energy advocacy and policy analysis. It produces annual reports, policy briefs, and other publications that track progress, identify trends, and provide guidance on renewable energy deployment, including community-owned projects. REN21’s work helps raise awareness, mobilize resources, and facilitate collaboration to accelerate the transition to a sustainable energy future.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: REN21’s efforts benefit a wide range of stakeholders involved in renewable energy, including communities, policymakers, investors, and civil society organizations. By advocating for supportive policies, sharing best practices, and fostering collaboration, REN21 empowers communities to develop and participate in community-owned geothermal projects, contributing to energy access, environmental sustainability, and local development.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Oregon Institute of Technology:
    • Research Focus: Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech) is renowned for its expertise in geothermal energy research and development. The institute’s focus on Community-Owned Geothermal Projects involves exploring innovative ownership models, financing mechanisms, and community engagement strategies to facilitate the development of geothermal resources for local communities.
    • Uniqueness: Oregon Tech’s research encompasses interdisciplinary collaborations between geologists, engineers, economists, and social scientists to address technical, economic, and social barriers to community-owned geothermal projects. They develop decision support tools, risk assessment frameworks, and policy recommendations to empower communities in the planning, development, and operation of geothermal energy systems.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in district heating, industrial processes, greenhouse agriculture, and power generation. By promoting community ownership of geothermal projects, Oregon Tech’s research fosters local economic development, energy resilience, and climate mitigation efforts, while enhancing community participation and ownership in renewable energy initiatives.
  2. University of Iceland:
    • Research Focus: The University of Iceland is a global leader in geothermal research, leveraging Iceland’s abundant geothermal resources and pioneering expertise in geothermal exploration and utilization. Their research on Community-Owned Geothermal Projects involves studying successful case studies, best practices, and lessons learned from community-based geothermal developments in Iceland and other regions.
    • Uniqueness: The university’s research integrates geoscience, engineering, policy analysis, and community outreach to facilitate knowledge sharing, capacity building, and stakeholder engagement in community-owned geothermal initiatives. They collaborate with local governments, indigenous communities, and industry partners to co-design and implement geothermal projects that align with community needs, values, and aspirations.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in heating, cooling, electricity generation, and recreational facilities. By empowering communities to own and benefit from geothermal projects, the University of Iceland’s research contributes to local economic development, social empowerment, and environmental stewardship, while fostering sustainable energy transitions at the grassroots level.
  3. Stanford University:
    • Research Focus: Stanford University conducts innovative research on Community-Owned Geothermal Projects, leveraging its expertise in energy economics, policy analysis, and technology innovation to explore the socio-economic and environmental implications of community-based geothermal developments.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves conducting techno-economic assessments, risk analyses, and stakeholder surveys to evaluate the feasibility and viability of community-owned geothermal projects in diverse socio-cultural contexts. They develop decision support frameworks, financing models, and governance structures to facilitate community participation and investment in geothermal energy systems.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in rural electrification, off-grid communities, and sustainable tourism. By promoting community ownership of geothermal projects, Stanford’s research fosters local entrepreneurship, job creation, and energy self-sufficiency, while enhancing social equity, environmental justice, and community resilience in geothermally-rich regions.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Community-owned geothermal projects are being implemented in various regions around the world, particularly in areas with abundant geothermal resources and a strong tradition of community involvement in energy development. For example, several communities in Iceland and the United States have developed and operate their own geothermal district heating systems.