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Geothermal Future

While I am a big proponent of nuclear energy to solve our energy needs as well as to allow us a green source of energy, geothermal also offers some advantages that may be worth considering.

Like nuclear, it takes years to implement a large geothermal plant (perhaps decades). It is imperative that the United States aggressively and quickly begins the construction of these alternative sources of energy rather than building more coal fired plants.

The NY Times ran an editorial on geothermal which I have reproduced, in part, below. Also, for those that don’t understand the technology, the following video will allow you to learn the basics.

In short, geothermal energy is:

  • safe to operate in very populated areas
  • fairly clean with few environmentally challenging by-products
  • stable
  • consistent
  • not an obvious target for terrorism

Probably the biggest downside of the technology in many locales is that it does require a large water source; however, coal, oil, and nuclear also need a large water source to be used effectively so this is not that much of a detriment.

In 2006, a panel led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology surveyed the prospects for electricity production from enhanced geothermal systems. Its conclusions were conservative but very optimistic. The panel suggested that with modest federal support, geothermal power could play a critical role in Americas energy future, adding substantially to the nations store of renewable energy and more than making up for coal-burning power plants that would have to be retired.

There is a lot of research yet to be done about geothermal sources, new techniques for deep drilling and energy generation at the surface. But the basics are clear enough. Water is injected deep into the earth where it absorbs heat from the surrounding rock. As the fluid returns to the surface, that heat is used to generate electricity. The fluid is then re-injected. The system forms a closed loop. It creates almost no emissions and is entirely renewable. It also occupies a smaller surface area than either solar or wind power.

Still, large-scale commercial production is at least a decade away and will require improvements on currently available technology. Geothermal development also will mean still more competition for scarce water, more holes in the ground and more roads to service those holes.

Geothermal development must not be allowed to foster another drilling free-for-all of the kind weve seen during the past decade. Done right, it could help free the country of the grievous environmental burden of coal-burning power plants. Done wrong, it could create grievous environmental problems of its own. Mindful of the dangers, the next administration should commit to developing this extraordinary resource.

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One Response to “Geothermal Future”

  1. I’ve always been fascinated by solar towers like this,

    The US has large desert areas that I would think are ideal for such a project.