Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Red Hot Renewable that Could Incite a Green Power Revolution

Geothermal Resource (Credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory) Click to enlarge.
When it isn’t drawing on magma-heated steam, geothermal energy is generated by water heated in underground geothermal reservoirs to create steam and turn an electricity-generating turbine.  The hotter the ground, the hotter the resource and the more energy can be generated.  Iceland lies on two major fault lines and is one of the most tectonically active places on Earth, making it an obvious geothermal hot spot.  The aim of many of the recent technological advances is to generate geothermal power economically from lower subterranean heat levels found around the planet.

Modern geothermal generation is surprisingly helpful for meeting climate change goals, even in comparison to renewable sources like wind and solar.  The very best geothermal plants generate as few greenhouse gas emissions as hydroelectric plants and less than solar photovoltaics over their complete life-cycle, according to a study by Argonne National Laboratory.  Combine this with the fact that the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the untapped geothermal resource in the U.S. is between 100 and 500 gigawatts, and the emissions savings could really start to add up, both domestically and globally where the resource is much larger.

As a baseload source it is competitive even with fossil fuels.

A geothermal reservoir is a heated body of water trapped underground in cracks and porous rock.  These reservoirs are extremely powerful; when the water isn’t trapped, it manifests itself on the surface as hot springs or geysers.  To develop electricity from geothermal resources, wells are drilled into geothermal reservoirs. Over time, the water or steam pressure can become depleted, at which point outside resources can be pumped back into the reservoir to recharge it.

A century ago, coal-powered electricity was just emerging as a valuable commodity. Today, with coal’s value undercut by a number of health and environmental factors, geothermal is one of the renewable sources primed to replace that power in the global energy market.  With greenhouse gases rising just as sharply as energy production, climate change is creating a similar global push for a paradigm shift to clean, sustainable sources in the electricity sector.  In all this, geothermal has a powerful role to play.  Unlike intermittent renewable power sources, such as wind and solar, geothermal can provide consistent energy 24-hours a day, making it an appealing baseload replacement for coal and nuclear power that are responsible for keeping the power supply stable and reliable.

The Red Hot Renewable that Could Incite a Green Power Revolution

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