Geothermal is everywhere today
October 16, 2017 by Denis Pombriant
Geothermal energy still has a whiff of the exotic because it’s the least understood—or discussed—non-polluting and renewable method for generating sizeable amounts of electricity essential to kicking the fossil fuel habit. Even casual observers get the idea of solar, wind, and even hydroelectric power generation, after all they are for the most part green generating options that have been around for decades. But geothermal is different, while it too has been around for a long time, there has been comparatively little discussion of it and we sometimes think of geothermal as something unusual, but it’s not; in fact it’s pretty simple.
As it turns out geothermal projects are everywhere on every continent, and its supporters are beginning to make a lot of noise about its benefits. According to “The Future of Geothermal Energy—Impact of Enhanced Geothermal Systems on the United States in the 21st Century,” a 2006 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, there is enough geothermal energy under the western US to power the country for thousands of years bringing into sharp relief the notion that earth’s next energy paradigm will be all electric and the only discussion point will be how the power is generated. Most likely, generation will be opportunistic to a degree with sunny places leveraging solar and windy places looking to wind farms.
So what is the natural niche for geothermal? All of the alternative generating strategies in the news today have one gaping drawback, intermittency, which is what happens when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. Every place on earth has a base load requirement, an amount of power the location needs to keep the lights on, the machines running, and the beer cold. Miss that baseline too often and you’re North Korea.
Geothermal can be tapped to provide base load power because it draws energy from the warmth of the earth in a process called heat mining. There’s more information on heat mining here and more on hydrothermal—one form of heat mining—here.
If you want to get a sense of heat mining and geothermal energy production around the world, check out ThinkGeoEnergy.com. Founded in 2008 by Alexander Richter, the site focuses on geothermal news and related areas. What’s impressive is how pervasive geothermal is in the community of people thinking really hard about solving the twin challenges of global warming and peak oil. A small sample of the articles on the site shows that every continent has projects ongoing as evidenced by these headlines,
“Ormat continuing work on Casa Diablo IV geothermal project, California”
“The Hague in the Netherlands pushing geothermal heating in sustainability efforts”
“Electronic state land administration geothermal lease sale in Utah, Oct. 27, 2017”
“Argentina sees renewed push for geothermal energy development”
It’s exactly what you might expect the US DOE to be praising, but under Rick Perry, climate change denier and Secretary of Energy you’d be hard pressed to find this kind of broad based enthusiasm. Ditto Secretary Scott Pruitt over at EPA. Fortunately for us, ThinkGeoEnergy is all the proof you really need to understand that solving climate and peak oil is now being taken out of the hands of government by the free market. GeoEnergy and all the other alternatives are happening and just might help us avert a climate crisis along with a dire future without sufficient energy.
Renewables also represent the next big money-making opportunity for humanity. We’ve got information about the age of sustainability on this site as well as in the eponymous book and we fear failing to take advantage of this economic trend might be the thing that prevents America from ever being great again.