Clean Power Geothermal Energy From Hot Springs

Published on May 10th, 2012 | by Charis Michelsen


Japan’s Hot Springs Could Be a Significant Source of Geothermal Energy

May 10th, 2012 by  

Geothermal Energy From Hot Springs

Japan, as a nation, has been understandably wary of nuclear power and nuclear weapons for well over six decades, and that wariness only increased last year when an infamous tsunami and earthquake struck the Fukushima nuclear power plants to make a perfect storm of a radiation horror story. The end result, amidst rebuilding efforts still underway fifteen months later, is that Japan has apparently washed its hands of nuclear power entirely (the last nuclear reactor was shut down on Saturday night).

Simply shutting down the reactors, obviously, has the first effect of “yay, no more nuclear waste, no more nuclear power, no reactors set to potentially explode if the ground beneath all our feet decides it wants another dance.” The second effect is the electricity shortage that comes with that, and the third is the potential increase in greenhouse gas emissions as Japan tries to make up that shortage by burning fossil fuels. Then, there’s the matter of Japan having to import the fossil fuels from elsewhere (it’s not like it has its own stash to mine), and it’s not a pretty picture.

Volcanoes to the Rescue!

However, Japan’s very nature of geological instability (it is a volcanic island chain, after all) might give it an edge in geothermal power. It’s sitting right in the middle of the infamous Ring of Fire, and has oh so many hot springs (no, seriously, you can just go sit in them and everything; the monkeys do it). Estimates put a total of 23.47 GW of potential geothermal energy in those hot springs (although there are many located in resorts and national parks that are difficult or impossible to exploit, making the usable number somewhat lower).

For a country with as much seismic energy bouncing around as Japan does, it uses remarkably little geothermal power now — only 0.5 GW. It does have the option of solar power (3.5 GW, potentially) and wind power (2.5 GW, again potentially), but geothermal offers perhaps the most potential energy to meet Japan’s needs.

Japan currently generates just 8% of its power from renewable (and local) sources. The goal is to be at over 25% in the next 18 years, and tapping its incredible potential for geothermal energy can only help it reach that goal. Questions or comments? Let us know below!

Source: Inhabitat
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.

  • Bill_Woods

    “The second effect is the electricity shortage that comes with that, and the third is the potential increase in greenhouse gas emissions as Japan tries to make up that shortage by burning fossil fuels.”

    Potential? It’s already happening. Hopefully the Japanese will get over their nuke-ophobia before too much damage is done.

    With the loss of nuclear energy, the Ministry of Environment projects that Japan will produce about 15 percent more greenhouse gas emissions this fiscal year than it did in 1990, the baseline year for measuring progress in reducing emissions. In fiscal 2010, Japan’s actual emissions were close to 1990 levels.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Phobia – a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational. (Wiki)

      Are the Japanese phobic or, perhaps, having now experienced nuclear meltdowns, are they choosing a rational, protective path away from nuclear energy?

      The cost might be a small increase in greenhouse gas emission for a few years while they work to replace increased fossil fuel use with safe renewable energy.

      Even a 15% rise in greenhouse gas will leave Japan producing less than half as much CO2 per person per year as the US and other high producers.

  • Ross

    Those solar and wind GW values are what’s currently installed, so there must be massive growth potential there considering what Germany is achieving.

    • Terry Hallinan

      If the entire land of the earth was covered with solar panels, they still could not turn on the light at night. Daytime lighting is fine but it is even better at night.

      Baseload energy from geothermal and biomass and even more feeble sources such as tidal currents are baseload (alway on) power. That is what we really need to replace the awful nukes and fossil fuels.

      Best, Terry

      • Bob_Wallace

        You overlook storage, Terry.

        I’m posting this from a computer running off solar power generated earlier today and stored in batteries.

        I’ll be able to keep my lights on all night long if I want to.

        Baseload is a old concept that is being discarded. The real issue is providing electricity when it is needed.

        We don’t need “always on” gen sources such as coal, nuclear or geothermal. We need a combination of “use it as it’s made”, storage, dispatchable supply, load shifting, and backup generation.

  • SteveW_GCA

    How does the 23.47 gigawatt figure compare to total power consumption in Japan? Sounds impressive as a stand-alone number, but what does it look like in the context of current use totals?

    • Bob_Wallace

      It’s a good hunk of the ~50GW of installed nuclear that the Japanese citizens want to permanently shut down.

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