Wind and sunshine are obvious sources of green energy – energy you can convert to electricity without having to rely on fossil fuels, which generate pollution. But you just might blow your stack when you realize another obvious natural source of heat that could have been explored all along to generate environmentally friendly electricity – a volcano.
That’s right. Developers of geothermal energy, or energy used to generate electricity, are preparing to put a whopping 24 million gallons of water into the side of a dormant volcano in Central Oregon called Newberry Volcano, situated near Bend, Ore. The plan is for the water to rise to the earth’s surface quickly enough and at a high enough temperature, thus serving as another alternative green energy source. The volcano experiment will take place this summer.
Some big-name investors, such as Google and even the U.S. government, are putting $43 million into the project as researchers strive to become greener and overcome the technical issues that have riddled the geothermal energy industry for years. Involved in the project are Davenport Newberry Holdings in Connecticut as well as AltaRock Energy in Washington.
A couple of challenges must be considered. Firstly, is the project going to be economic long-term? Secondly, is it true that this type of project could trigger earthquakes, a major concern in the geothermal energy industry?
The good thing about the Newberry Volcano location is that no major faults exist in the region, and the volcano is not near major city areas. The volcano has not erupted in 1,300 years.
In addition, unlike solar and wind energy, geothermal energy of this nature offers the advantage of providing a source of electricity no matter the outdoor weather conditions. Although geothermal energy makes up only 0.3 percent of electricity production in America currently, that figure easily could be increased to 10 percent over the next half century, with its prices rivaling that of existing fossil fuels.
A power plant in the Newberry Volcano area could be up and running over the next decade. If geothermal energy makes headway in the United States, all of the hot rocks in the West actually would be enough to generate half of America’s electricity, according to a 2008 U.S. Geological Survey assessment.
Another New Geothermal System Also Aims to Rock Green Industry
A new system called Enhanced Geothermal Systems is being introduced to further make geothermal energy more mainstream. It involves drilling wells into rock and then pumping water in to create small fractures. Afterward, cold water is pumped down the wells into the reservoir, allowing steam to be produced and collected.
These types of geothermal energy projects are taking place in countries such as Germany and France as well as at U.S. sites including Idaho, Nevada and California, where the U.S. Department of Energy is closely monitoring the work.
New international legislation slated to be released at the end of January encourages the developers of Enhanced Geothermal Systems to conduct their projects in rural areas due to the threats of earthquakes. In addition, these developers are required to keep city residents abreast of what they are doing in their areas.
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