Magazine article The Futurist

Forward to the Steam Age? Geothermal Plants Could Have a Seismic Impact on Energy Demand-Literally

Magazine article The Futurist

Forward to the Steam Age? Geothermal Plants Could Have a Seismic Impact on Energy Demand-Literally

Article excerpt

As the gradual shift from fossil fuels to renewables gets further under way, a number of researchers are beginning to look more closely at the promise of geothermal energy. While the geothermal process is not completely emission-free, the amount of greenhouse gases released is far less than that from conventional fossil fuels. Like wind and solar, heat from the earth is safer and cleaner than fossil fuels and provides an inexhaustible source of energy.

Currently, most geothermal energy comes from around 200 meters deep, at temperatures of less than 10[degrees]C--which is actually not very hot when compared with the temperatures just a little further down.

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It is estimated that 99% of the earth has a temperature of more than 1,000[degrees]C. According to researchers at the Norwegian-based organization SINTEF, harnessing just a tiny fraction of this heat could theoretically provide enough energy for the entire world population.

Several Norwegian companies and organizations--including SINTEF, which has experience with petroleum exploration--are planning an ambitious pilot project that would harness the geothermal energy from 5,500 meters deep in the earth--about the same depth as some of the more recent onshore oil wells. According to researchers, the energy is there--all that is needed is a truly safe, effective means to tap into it.

Current wisdom favors binary cycle geothermal power plants. This type of plant features two deep, interconnected wells that operate in a cyclical fashion. Cold water is pumped down an injection well and heated by the underground rock (to around 95[degrees]C at that depth), then pumped back up via a production well, giving off steam, driving turbines, and generating electricity.

After around three decades, this process will have cooled the bedrock to the point where it is no longer hot enough to be productive, not unlike a tapped oil field run dry. …

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