Geothermal Energy: A Challenger Appears
A panel at MIT has suggested that we could harvest 100,000 megawatts a year from geothermal energy sources (i.e. geysers), another hopeful (and non-destructive, unlike killer alternatives like ethanol) addition to the roster of alternative energy sources which will likely have to be used in tandem to provide a viable future as we dip to the last of our shale oil reserves. (Though it is likely we will see a shift towards nuclear first, an option favored by Barack Obama and which Bill Gates is currently working heavily with the Chinese government on further developing—yet one which the Fukushima disaster has underlined the danger of.)
So far, Humans have harnessed the strength of the sun, water, and wind to generate clean electricity. Now, it may be time to take advantage of the earth’s capacity to provide renewable power. An interdisciplinary panel from MIT estimated that the United States could potentially produce 100,000 megawatts of geothermal energy within the next 50 years. The report estimates that 200,000 exajoules of energy could be captured from EGS (enhanced geothermal systems) by 2050 in the US alone – that’s roughly 2,000 times the total consumption of the country in 2005.
At a time of record gas prices and climate concerns, tapping into geothermal energy contained within the earth’s crust has become an attractive alternative. While solar and wind technologies are inconsistent due to their reliance on the weather, geothermal can produce power nearly 24/7 at a rate that outperforms some coal plants. The infrastructure requires less land than solar or wind, and it’s not as harmful to wildlife. Most techniques rely on large amounts of water, which is heated deep underground in order to create steam that turns turbines. Instead of sooty smokestacks, emissions consist primarily of water vapor. In a country that boasts numerous volcanoes, geysers, and hot springs, geothermal plants could become a viable domestic option for the production of power.
Recent reports that we are somehow in a “new oil boom” are a misread of the facts, mistaking shale oil (rocks with small traces of oil within them which can be ground up, along with the giant areas of land they come in, to produce minor oil yields) for the real thing. As we are currently coming to the end of our culture’s collective 100 year oil hallucination and facing a bad coke-nightmare comedown, exploration and action upon resources like geothermal is crucially important.