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Clean Power A Japanese Volcano

Published on July 7th, 2008 | by Michelle Bennett

15

Harness a Volcano to Power Your Town

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July 7th, 2008 by  

A Japanese Volcano

Great Balls of Geothermal Fire!

Everyone knows that volcanoes have plenty of heat to spare, and normally we prefer that they keep it to themselves. Now, with energy prices rising, some communities are starting to reconsider their rumbling neighbors.

Geothermal energy relies on heat and water beneath the earth’s crust. Together they can create steam to turn a turbine. The trick is access: most of the earth’s heat is located miles beneath the crust. Even active volcanoes can hide their volitile energy under very hard igneous rock. Young volcanoes can have shallow magma reservoirs and sometimes they still have softer earthen crust. Just add water into this situation and you have potent potential for geothermal energy.

Prism Lake, Yellowstone Nat. ParkVolanoes are not the best geologic features for geothermal energy. Hot springs, like those found in Iceland or Yellowstone National Park, are the easiest to harness because the water is already on the surface. At Yellowstone the water is often already boiling at the surface, and higher temperatures beneath the crust drive some of the world’s most famous geysers.

One of the best places in the world to develop geothermal energy is Newberry Crater in Oregon. The site is emblematic of the issues facing many geothermal projects. Development has been stalled or abandoned over the years due to economic and environmental issues. Newberry Crater’s geology also makes it a remote, beautiful place. Developers must compete with recreational and ecological needs while trying to reach the nearest transmission lines. The economics of developing there have been tempting for years, but with today’s energy prices now the site is downright tantalizing. Davenport Power has already begun the first phases of planning and test drilling, but could face powerful opposition.

Old FaithfulSome scientists claim that the United States has enough geothermal resources to provide 20% or more of the nation’s energy needs. More than a dozen states are known to own lucrative geothermal resources, and most of those states have already begun to develop them. The first geothermal power plant was built in Italy in 1904, and many European States are turning to untapped resources beneath their feet.

In August, Alaska will sell prospecting rights to Mount Spurr, one of several volcanoes located near Anchorage. It is estimated that Mount Spurr could generate “tens of hundreds of megawatts of energy”. Alaska may also sell similar prospecting rights to Mount Augustine, an explosive volcano located on its own uninhabited island. Authorities admit that Augustine poses “special safety challenges“. Both erupt relatively frequently.

An existing geothermal facility near Santa Rosa, California has been generating enough energy to power San Francisco for years. As one of the largest geothermal developments in the world, it illustrates the potential scale of geothermal. Like Iceland, some cities or nations could harvest a significant portion of their electricity from the ground.

No one has managed to “tap the (volcanoes of the) Rockies” just yet. Special safety challenges will require special safety innovations. Nevertheless, the potential return could be as enourmous as the forces of nature at work: clean, green, unlimited energy for the rest of this geologic era. Unlike solar and wind, geothermal generates a steady supply of energy 24 hours a day, everyday. Anything so abundant and predictable won’t go untapped for long.

Related Reading:

Geothermal is smart

What about Ground Source Heat Pumps?

Enhanced Geothermal Systems

Some Politicians like Gothermal

Image of a Japanese Volcano via w00kie on the Flickr Creative Commons. Images of Yellowstone Nationap Park are my own.

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About the Author

is an environmentalist who loves to write. She grew up across the southeastern USA and especially love the Appalachian mountains. She went to school in the northeast USA in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. She majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. She has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced her to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. She also taught English in South Korea for a year, which taught her to take nothing for granted.



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  • dave

    hate to play devil’s advocate, but i’d imagine that there’s a fairly finite number of places in the nation where we could effectively and efficiently set a geothermal plant up that haven’t already been taken–we’re not the philippines or iceland.

    to broaden geothermal as an energy source, we’ll have to spend a good amount of money into researching methods to drill more deeply (we get closer to the magma that way!!!) or potentially, enhanced geothermal systems, which pump water into the ground, creating fractures in basement rock and extracting the now heated water (a delicate situation for places with the heat but no water. remember that people have been working on this stuff for decades (though they’ve been quite underfunded).

    geothermal has the potential to be a substantial energy supplement, but will take quite a bit of time and money to begin to realize those potentials. i think that currently, one of the most cost effective energy alternatives is landfill gas recovery. it serves the dual benefit of yielding fairly cheap energy and reduces greenhouse emissions simultaneously. plus, it accelerates the landfil compaction process substantially.

  • dave

    hate to play devil’s advocate, but i’d imagine that there’s a fairly finite number of places in the nation where we could effectively and efficiently set a geothermal plant up that haven’t already been taken–we’re not the philippines or iceland.

    to broaden geothermal as an energy source, we’ll have to spend a good amount of money into researching methods to drill more deeply (we get closer to the magma that way!!!) or potentially, enhanced geothermal systems, which pump water into the ground, creating fractures in basement rock and extracting the now heated water (a delicate situation for places with the heat but no water. remember that people have been working on this stuff for decades (though they’ve been quite underfunded).

    geothermal has the potential to be a substantial energy supplement, but will take quite a bit of time and money to begin to realize those potentials. i think that currently, one of the most cost effective energy alternatives is landfill gas recovery. it serves the dual benefit of yielding fairly cheap energy and reduces greenhouse emissions simultaneously. plus, it accelerates the landfil compaction process substantially.

  • http://cleantechnica.com MichelleBennett

    @Bill:

    Good luck with your presentation! Let us know how that works out for you, and how you went about it. I’m sure a lot of people in similar situations could learn from your example.

  • http://cleantechnica.com MichelleBennett

    @Bill:

    Good luck with your presentation! Let us know how that works out for you, and how you went about it. I’m sure a lot of people in similar situations could learn from your example.

  • bill armstrong

    Be it geothermal, or ground souced heat; the concept works. Presently in my hometown, I am advocating the concept of transfering heat energy in the Susquehanna River (which runs through the middle of town) and directing that energy through old steam line conduits to provide a low cost heat alternative for businesses and homeowners.

    I have advocated this concept for over a year now, and the local boro council is scheduled to hear a presentation that may clarify how state funding and technical expertise can make this concept happen.

    Creative thinking, and collaboration can make the difference!

    More to follow…

  • bill armstrong

    Be it geothermal, or ground souced heat; the concept works. Presently in my hometown, I am advocating the concept of transfering heat energy in the Susquehanna River (which runs through the middle of town) and directing that energy through old steam line conduits to provide a low cost heat alternative for businesses and homeowners.

    I have advocated this concept for over a year now, and the local boro council is scheduled to hear a presentation that may clarify how state funding and technical expertise can make this concept happen.

    Creative thinking, and collaboration can make the difference!

    More to follow…

  • http://cleantechnica.com MichelleBennett

    Thanks for your input, Curt and Tim.

    It looks like geothermal has a bright future. Like many industries, some locations present a NIMBY challenge; the facilities can be an eyesore for local communities or tourists – especially in beautiful areas like Newberry Crater. Is anyone aware of geothermal facilities that successfully overcome this issue? I know that some cell phone towers camoflage themselves as trees. Anything along those lines?

  • http://cleantechnica.com MichelleBennett

    Thanks for your input, Curt and Tim.

    It looks like geothermal has a bright future. Like many industries, some locations present a NIMBY challenge; the facilities can be an eyesore for local communities or tourists – especially in beautiful areas like Newberry Crater. Is anyone aware of geothermal facilities that successfully overcome this issue? I know that some cell phone towers camoflage themselves as trees. Anything along those lines?

  • http://www.brightfuture.us Tim

    Geothermal power does indeed present enormous potential. And not just from “hotspots” like volcanoes. The simple temperature difference that occurs as you move further into the earth can be harnessed by pumping water down and catching the steam that rises up.

    It may indeed take 40-50 years for the US to develop it’s full potential, but a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 8,000 to 15,000 MW could come online in the next decade. So hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more of geothermal power generating schemes in the near future.

  • http://www.brightfuture.us Tim

    Geothermal power does indeed present enormous potential. And not just from “hotspots” like volcanoes. The simple temperature difference that occurs as you move further into the earth can be harnessed by pumping water down and catching the steam that rises up.

    It may indeed take 40-50 years for the US to develop it’s full potential, but a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 8,000 to 15,000 MW could come online in the next decade. So hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more of geothermal power generating schemes in the near future.

  • http://www.geothermal.org Curt Robinson, Geothermal Resources Council

    Nice article. Geothermal is an abundant source of energy … a report released by the US Dept of Energy and MIT suggest at 100,000 Megawatts (MW) are available in the US and could be developed within 40-50 years. Currently, 1 MW is enough power for 750-1,000 homes … do the math.

    Curt Robinson

    Geothermal Resources Council

    http://www.geothermal.org

  • http://www.geothermal.org Curt Robinson, Geothermal Reso

    Nice article. Geothermal is an abundant source of energy … a report released by the US Dept of Energy and MIT suggest at 100,000 Megawatts (MW) are available in the US and could be developed within 40-50 years. Currently, 1 MW is enough power for 750-1,000 homes … do the math.

    Curt Robinson

    Geothermal Resources Council

    http://www.geothermal.org

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