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MIT-Led Study Says Geothermal Energy Is Viable 291

Posted by kdawson
from the hot-rocks dept.
amigoro writes to tell us about a study for the US Department of Energy, led by MIT, indicating that geothermal energy could account for 10% of energy production in the US by 2050. The study concludes that geothermal is proven, could impose markedly lower environmental impacts than fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants, and is likely to be cost-competitive with the alternatives. This coverage in LiveScience points out how big a player geothermal already is in the US: "The United States is the world's biggest producer of geothermal energy. Nafi Toksöz, a geophysicist at MIT, noted that the electricity produced annually by geothermal plants now in use in California, Hawaii, Utah, and Nevada is comparable to that produced by solar and wind power combined."
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MIT-Led Study Says Geothermal Energy Is Viable

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  • GeoWhoWhat? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Cygnostik (545583) <gort@spamthw[ ].com ['art' in gap]> on Monday January 22, 2007 @08:35PM (#17717754) Homepage
    I had no idea G.T. energy was already in use in California. Just goes to show how much one knows about where his own power comes from. But to say produces more energy than Solar and Wind combined, is that really saying much?
  • by definate (876684) on Monday January 22, 2007 @08:36PM (#17717772)
    This doesn't seem like a viable alternative. 10% in the year 2005. Is that including forecast increases in power usage (as per population and ignoring other technological impacts). Additionally 10% isn't much overall, how can this be a viable alternative.
  • by dreddnott (555950) <dreddnott@yahoo.com> on Monday January 22, 2007 @08:37PM (#17717792) Homepage
    *Modern* nuclear power plants are the best solution to our coal and oil dependence.

    I like how the summary states that geothermal energy generation is cost-competitive with straw men like solar power, and lumps nuclear power plant environmental impact with the other straw man, fossil fuels.
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Monday January 22, 2007 @08:50PM (#17717916) Journal
    I'm fairly comfortable that we've got a long way to go to screw up the earths core temperature and/or magnetism (that's not based on any scientific knowledge, btw). It seems, however, that we could much more quickly screw up ocean currents by changing the thermal gradients that exist (again, not based on hard science numbers). Since much of our weather patterns are based on those ocean currents, I would venture that a real effort to convert to using ocean thermals to satify a larger portion of humaities need for energy could very well alter the global weather in just a few generations. Maybe the numbers don't support my gut feeling, but I would need to be convinved otherwise before I considered using ocean gradients for power.

    (and yes - using the gradients means reducing said gradients - it's that whole "laws of thermodynamics" thing Homer keeps reminding Lisa about)
  • Iceland! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by localman (111171) on Monday January 22, 2007 @08:51PM (#17717926) Homepage
    I visited Iceland a couple years ago, and I became sold on geothermal. I mean, Iceland is a small country, but they have fairly high power needs per capita because of the cold climate, and they run almost entirely off geothermal, as I understand it. This isn't some apologetic green technology that is decades or more from delivering affordable massive power, like solar, wind, etc. No, this is the real thing: a geothermal plant puts out power at nuclear reactor levels. And these things are clean.

    My favorite part of the visit was swimming in the Blue Lagoon [art-iceland.com]... a spa built alongside the runoff from a geothermal power plant. Seriously: you're in the middle of a lava rock field, and boiling hot waste water pours from the power plant into a huge outdoor pool. In the cold air you can nearly cook yourself as you swim closer to the power plant. But it's clean enough to swim in.

    There are many criteria that need to be met to build a geothermal power station at a given location, but I think the research and development needed must be far less than for some other technologies, and the end result is completely proven, so the risks are minimal.

    My ideal-yet-realistic world features geothermal and nuclear supplementing each other, with the preference towards geothermal.

    Cheers.
  • by 42Penguins (861511) on Monday January 22, 2007 @08:56PM (#17717980)
    I concur! And speaking of defending America through energy, may I suggest to you some terror-free gas? http://www.terrorfreeoil.org/ [terrorfreeoil.org]
  • by king-manic (409855) on Monday January 22, 2007 @08:59PM (#17718018)


    Ahh... I see you suggest modern nuclear power plants.

    Did you know that archaic nuclear power plants produce a whole bunch of "unusable" nuclear "waste"? Further, every time we put in a new nuclear power plant a terrorist gets a weapon of mass destruction!


    Although my sarcasm detector is deeply confused by your post, I'll hazard a reply anyways. A nuclear reactor can cause a large amount of damage but only slightly more then a standard gas/coal/oil power generation plant. Events like chernobyl were basically steam explosions when the operators purposely overode every failsafe for some reason. The major difference is a nuclear power plant is that after an accident, clean up takes longer. A modern reactor like a pebblebed or candu reactor would result in less nuclear waste and is even harder to have an accident occur.

    Nuclear isn't "optional" is is the next most abundant fuel after the hydrocarbons are gone. So it's either now or later. You don't have a choice not to use it.
  • Re:Anti-nuclear bias (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Monday January 22, 2007 @09:10PM (#17718122)
    Actually, I myself used to live in downtown chicago and recently moved out to a small town in rural Illinois. I live 20 miles away from a nuclear power plant in Byron, IL and on clear days can see the two condenser stacks from the second story of my home.

    I have no problem having a nuclear power plant in my "backyard", and would be more then happy if it was a fast breeder reactor that could continually burn it's fuel (as to have very little waste). If you want to get (cheap, less-polluting energy) you have to give (having production close by, being rational with regards to generation method).

    Most people don't get that a coal-fired electical generation facility puts out more radiation then a nuclear power plant. Go figure.

  • by sterlingda (732011) on Monday January 22, 2007 @09:17PM (#17718202) Homepage Journal
    This coming Saturday, I will be conducting a 1-hour, live interviw with Jefferson Tester, who headed this Geothermal panel and report. It will be broadcast live [freeenergynow.net] from 6:00 to 6:55 pm Eastern time. http://pesn.com/2007/01/22/9500449_MIT_Geothermal_ Report/ [pesn.com]
  • by maxume (22995) on Monday January 22, 2007 @09:19PM (#17718228)
    Puny human, ocean huge! Anyway, for starters:

    http://www.noaa.gov/questions/question_082900.html [noaa.gov]

    Perhaps more interesting than anything else is that it states that a hurricane puts out about 1/2 the global electrical generation capacity; figure out how tiny a hurricane is compared to the ocean and you just have to be careful not to pull to much energy out in one particular place.
  • by timmarhy (659436) on Monday January 22, 2007 @09:26PM (#17718288)
    your post makes no sense at all. first you say "A per-megawatt subsidy to companies and individuals producing power should be implemented" then in the next paragraph you say "What we should not do is provide special loans and incentives for companies to choose nuclear power". government should stay the fuck out of it.
  • Stopgap solution. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 22, 2007 @10:00PM (#17718588)
    One thing that's notable by its absence in the article: how long will this energy last, given current energy usage? For instance, Australia (where I live) is currently exploring nuclear power. The Age [theage.com.au] ran an article a while ago, suggesting geothermal as a solution to Australia's energy needs that would last 75 years, based upon a single site in South Australia. Add more sites, and that time frame obviously goes up.

    The way I see it is, you build the power plants you need now, based on geothermal and similar technologies that are known to be clean and safe, even though you also know that they won't last forever. You then use those power sources to develop other fuel sources. Australia has an obvious solution: solar power. Grab some of those vast, empty tracts of land, and throw some mirrors, water pipes, and so forth thereon. Hey presto, power that's almost free for the taking (just maintenance and salary costs, more than anything else, to pay.)

    Now, solar power doesn't work well at night, right? So build some power storage plants. Hydro plants (pump water up when there's a power surplus, let it run down and drive turbines when there's a deficit) work well for that. So does a solid flywheel. And the storage doesn't have to be close to the power plant. So in the most extreme version of this vision, you have your hundreds of towns and cities, each with enough power storage stations to hold the energy for 24 (or 48, or 72, or whatever) hours of demand; and your solar or wind or tidal plants elsewhere, feeding those stations.

    All of a sudden, you don't need an ultra reliable transmission system spanning the entire continent. If it goes down for a couple of hours, it's no big deal. Fix it, get the power flowing again, and nobody will notice. Flywheels can be built pretty much anywhere - say, underneath the roads of the cities, out of the way of water, gas and other pipelines ... You also can draw your power from any source you care to name, without worrying about whether it can run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All you care about is that it can supply enough power, on average, to run the cities and towns, with a sufficient surplus that you can recharge the storage reasonably quickly. When everything's working smoothly, and you have a surplus, that energy can be applied to other things - desalination, perhaps, or maybe aluminium smelting; anything that uses a lot of energy but which doesn't need it all the time is a potential sink for when the storage systems are fully charged.

    Solar might not be viable in the US, but the above is still a useful blueprint for any country, regardless of how the storage systems are recharged.

    We have the technology already. All we need is the political willpower to make it happen.
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Monday January 22, 2007 @10:38PM (#17718888) Journal
    yeah, the GT homes really make sense. I grew up on wisc/ill border and saw -40 day and night (this was 60's and 70's). A number of the homes had heatpumps, but they were air based heat pumps. So instead, most have A.Cs (basically air based heat pumps), and gas heaters. But with the ground at a nice 55F, it has always made sense to use GT for both. On my next house, I think that it will be new and we will have them install a GT. May add an extra 5K, but worth it.
  • Re:Global Cooling (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Monday January 22, 2007 @10:45PM (#17718926) Journal

    Um, if we were to convert the earth's thermal energy into electricity, wouldn't that lower the temperature?
    Lower the temperature of the mantle, but raise the temperature of the biosphere. Instead of dumping gases into the atmosphere that increase the fraction of the sun's heat that sticks around we would instead directly inject heat energy into the atmosphere. You know those plants will probably only be 25% efficient when all is said and done. That means 75% of the heat energy taken out of the earth will contribute directly to global warming. Nice job.
  • No quite accurate. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Monday January 22, 2007 @10:46PM (#17718944) Journal
    The problem is that most of the designs for geothermal is to use the prevailing heat as a wet well. That is they want to not only use the heat, but the local water. If they had a recycling GT set-up, then there would be a whole lot less impact and fight. But of course, that means spending some real money. A good example was the one in Wyoming next to YellowStone. Some far right wing group set up there and built one that used the water. Funny enough they simply discarded the water rather than re-inject (too much money). Needless to say, nearby springs and gysers lost their pressure. So a court injunction was obtained and they were stopped. Once a recycling GT can be built cheap, and effectively, you will see GT springing up all over here.
  • Re:GeoWhoWhat? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ChicoLance (318143) * <lance@orner.net> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @03:16AM (#17720608)
    (The following is all from memory. I worked at a geothermal plant long ago.)

    Yep, there are several plants in California. The twenty-odd plants that make up the Gysers north of Santa Rosa in the Bay Area, and I understand another field in the Imperial Valley. The Gysers field has been drying up over the years, despite them trying to pump water back down into it, and I haven't really checked the status of it in years.

    As much as this is an interesting technology, it's not perfect. The geothermal steam that goes through the plant is also loaded with sulfur and arsenic, which all has to be scrubbed out before the steam can be released through the air. The amount of solid sulfur removed per day was quite a bit.

    Another thing to keep in mind, that this Reuters article [yahoo.com] covering the same thing mentions that there are 61 projects in the works for 5000+ megawatts. For comparison, Diablo Canyon nuclear plant has two reactors, and each can produce over 1100+ megawatts. There is way more bang for the buck in other technologies, but they all have their drawbacks.

  • by fantomas (94850) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @06:44AM (#17721448)
    Throwing nuclear waste down a 65 metre hole in the ground including fissile material and then being surprised when the cap blows off and showers the area with radioactive waste does not appear to be a responsible use of nuclear power to me. Read up on Dounreay power station in Scotland: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=12626 82002 [scotsman.com]

    Why did Windscale change its name to Sellafield? read up on the history of that plant. Hint: read up on the 1957 Windscale Fire: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windscale_fire [wikipedia.org]

  • by stiebing.ja (836551) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @07:15AM (#17721616)
    ...like they did unfortunately in Basel (Switzerland) when they made tests to use geothermic energy on a new (?) way.
    They pumped water under high pressure into rocks several kilometers under the surface to further loosen the stones for later pumping of water through it. Obviously the rocks stood already under pressure which was released through the experiments and caused several earthquakes with a strength between 3.2 and 3.4 on the Richter scale - which is just strong enough to be noticed by humans.

    Don't believe it? See the report on tagesschau.de [tagesschau.de] (sorry - german only) from 16.01.2007 and the site of the Swiss Deep Heat Mining Project [www.dhm.ch] which makes the experiments.
  • by Paulrothrock (685079) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @10:24AM (#17723066) Homepage Journal

    I'm interested in making the economy work the way Adam Smith intended by removing externalities.

    There is an economic benefit in having a megawatt of electricity generated. So each power company should be given a subsidy for putting that megawatt into the grid.

    However, there's economic costs to every form of power generation. Coal, oil, and natural gas power plants should pay for each ton of CO2 and other pollutant they emit. Nuclear power plants should pay for the disposal of their fuel and the power plant itself when it is end-of-lifed. Solar panel manufacturers should pay for the disposal or recycling of their panels at the end of life. Hell, McDonalds should pay for each pound of trash it generates with its packaging.

    In this way consumers would be able to make better decisions because the true costs of them would be visible in the price. It would remove the externalities that Adam Smith said were the problem with his economic theory. Also, by paying these fees to the government and passing along the price to the consumer, we would be able to eliminate almost all taxes that we currently pay.

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