Press Releases

Study Finds Geothermal Energy the Most Efficient Renewable Energy Alternative and Improving Fastest

NEW YORK--As the Obama Administration pushed the energy bill through the House, government organizations and corporations are assessing renewable energy alternatives. Which are the most efficient and improving the fastest? According to a new study from NYU Stern, geothermal and wind energy are more efficient, and are yielding greater returns on the R&D invested in them, than most other renewable energy alternatives.

NYU Stern Professor Melissa Schilling, an expert in strategic management and technology and innovation management, finds that the cost of generating electricity with geothermal or wind energy is a fraction of the cost of solar energy. More important, the performance of both is improving much more per dollar of R&D invested in them than solar technologies. This is the first study to explore the trajectory of performance improvement of renewable energy alternatives.

She examined data on government R&D investment and technological improvement and found:

  • Geothermal energy is the most efficient renewable energy alternative and is improving the fastest. Wind energy is second.
  • Fossil fuel technologies are no longer improving (in terms of efficiency) much – if at all. These technologies have likely reached their performance limits, though the government still spends far more on them.
  • Geothermal energy could become cheaper than fossil fuels with R&D spending of as little as $3.3 billion.
  • Both geothermal and wind energy technologies have been underfunded by national governments relative to funding for solar technologies, and government funding of fossil fuel technologies might be excessive given their diminishing performance.

The full paper was recently published in Energy Policy and is available here.

To speak with Professor Melissa Schilling about the study, please contact her directly at 212-365-0118 and; or contact Jenny Owen in NYU Stern’s Office of Public Affairs, at 212-998-0561 and

July 15, 2009: