FULL CUP | Volume 1

April 2007

The Answer Beneath Our Feet
Geothermal Energy- Part 1

By Jack Brand
Editor in Chief
World Water Center

Life is fragile. Without any number of things we cannot support it even at the most basic level. Air, water and protection from the elements are only a few. Without these, life cannot be sustained. Yet none of the three come easily. Pollution fouls the air we breathe and poisons the water we drink. The earth is growing warmer at an alarming rate, threatening to alter the levels of our oceans at the same time as insufficient heat claims lives each year. This happens while a solution is right under our feet.

Geothermal energy uses the heat under the earth's surface to heat water, which in turn provides energy in a number of ways. The end result is a sustainable energy source that can heat entire cities and offers a clean alternative to poisonous fossil fuels. Water, the earth's most mysterious element, reveals yet another dimension by solving riddles belonging to the other elements - earth, fire and air.

Typically the hot water generates steam, which powers turbines thereby generating electricity. More direct heat exchange methods are also widely used. Both of these approaches are very effective.

The once polluted city of Reykjavik, Iceland is now heated almost entirely with geothermal energy from a combination of sources. After its shift from fossil fuel, Reykjavik has become one of the cleanest cities on earth.1 Geothermal electrical power plants also provide very stable base load power. Counting all the ways that geothermal energy is used; it is equivalent to 26 million tons of oil each year according to the 2001 World Energy Council's Survey of Energy Resources.

The more geothermal energy produced, the less fossil fuel is used, which means less pollution of air and water. In view of global warming this may prove itself the most important long-term benefit for humanity. Geothermal energy offers more than just ecological benefits, though.

Geothermal energy protects nations from the unstable nature of the fossil fuel supply and inevitable escalation in oil prices. It also reduces dependency on outside sources for its energy, making it economically viable as well. Despite all these advantages the world produced only one half of one percent of its energy output from geothermal sources in 2002.3

There is significant room for growth. Geothermal Reservoirs are abundant in many regions of the world, primarily in areas with high tectonic activity. According to the World Energy Council "New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, the western coastal Americas, the central and eastern parts of the Mediterranean, Iceland, the Azores and eastern Africa" are particularly rich in geothermal energy. (Citation 2) Improved technology will help us tap into this resource.

The cornerstone of this technology is hot earth, but water is the key. According to the Geothermal Education Office in Tiburn, California; "Private and government research projects in the United States, Japan and in Europe are improving the accessibility of geothermal energy by developing new technology to increase the permeability of the rocks and to supplement the water in hot, water-deficient rocks." With this new technology geothermal energy may provide up to 10% of the world's electricity by the year 2020.4

Although the future holds great promise, many countries are using geothermal energy today. Most are only beginning to explore this energy source, but others are already reaping significant benefits. Iceland, Kenya and the United States are three interesting case studies.

Iceland possesses abundant geothermal resources and uses them to produce more than half of its primary energy supply.5 Geothermal energy generates electricity, directly heats cities such as Reykjavik and is used in agriculture. In the continental United States "geothermal resources supply about 6% of the energy produced in California, 10% in northern Nevada"6 Hawaii, although part of the United States, illustrates potential in another geothermal region by producing 25% of its energy with geothermal power. Between 1999 and 2004, Kenya increased its geothermal energy output by 280%. In 2003 this was 7.95% of the country's total energy compared with an average of .5% globally. The Kenyan government quickly recognized this potential for growth and promptly proposed the creation of a geothermal development company with an eye to the commercial potential of geothermal energy.7

Dependence on fossil fuels threatens the earth itself, the health and safety of the people who inhabit it and the economic welfare of their nations. Sustainable and clean alternative energy is essential. Geothermal energy has proven itself not only economically viable, but profitable. Yet, despite its potential and proven track record it is used only to a fraction of its full potential. It is time to unleash the hidden power of the earth's water.

Would you be interested in partnering?

Sources:
1) Geothermal Education Office, Geothermal Energy Facts - Advanced Level Direct
     (Non-Electrical) Uses of Geothermal Energy
2) World Energy Council Survey of Energy Resources - Geothermal Energy
3) International Energy Agency, Key World Energy Statistics 2004
4) Geothermal Education Office, Geothermal Energy Facts - Advanced Level The Future of
     Geothermal Energy
5) International Geothermal Association Iceland
6) U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy -
     Geothermal Technologies Program Heat and Power for the 21st Century
7) International Geothermal Association Kenya

 
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