Salem Esber, Energy Market Expert at PA Consulting, discusses geothermal power.
Geothermal power works very simply. The amount of heat generated just 10,000 metres below the Earth’s surface is estimated to provide 50,000 times more energy than all known reserves of oil and gas on the planet. Not only that, but geothermal energy is constant – unless the Earth’s inner core were to unexpectedly cool off or disappear overnight, the interior of our planet is expected to remain superheated for millions of years to come.
This intense heat is provided by nature itself, meaning no hydrocarbons have to be consumed. Water can be used and superheated to produce steam, powering turbines which generate enough electricity to power generators.
Salem discussed the issues surrounding geothermal power. “Utility-scale geothermal is a very site-specific energy source, meaning it only really works when there are good geological conditions for it.”
Out of the 195 countries in the world, at least 26 of them are already using geothermal power, but this special source of power might remain restricted to a select list of nations for a considerable amount of time to come – geological forces are slow acting, meaning changes to the surface of our planet take millions of years to take shape.
The cutting edge of geothermal power
Iceland remains one of the prime candidates for geothermal power, but it is certainly not the largest country to benefit from this form of clean energy. The western regions of the United States are considered well-suited for geothermal energy generation, and there’s a growing argument to shift away from unreliable carbon-based sources in power, especially after a winter which put US energy infrastructure in the spotlight.
Salem explains: “Geothermal can provide reliable around-the-clock electricity, which most other renewables cannot do on a standalone basis. The importance of this is underscored by blackouts in California, Texas and the US Midwest in the past year, areas which have become increasingly reliant on intermittent renewables.”
The blackouts experienced in early 2021 serve as a compelling catalyst for action, especially as Texas has the means to start producing a special form of geothermal energy which can be achieved by upgrading existing oil and gas infrastructure.
Diversifying the Texan energy grid away from oil and gas towards something as consistently reliable as geothermal power could help limit the number of future blackouts. That’s because the latest blackout seen in Texas is likely to have primarily resulted from frozen gas-powered equipment. Texas is in an awkward position when it comes to electricity supplies, given that the state has an isolated energy grid and a deregulated energy sector. This means it lacks oversight by the Federal Government, and it can be tricky to import electricity from outside the state.
Perhaps with the addition of geothermal power from super-heated Texan shale, the state can start to literally run on its own steam.
The future of geothermal
Countries including Iceland are able to afford the luxury of using clean, low-carbon energy sources such as geothermal to power 81 per cent of their energy requirements. Unfortunately, geothermal power can’t be exported in the same way that we can move oil and gas around. While those sources of energy can be easily transported by barrels or pipelines, geothermal power is very much limited to the confines of the countries which have access to the vents in the Earth’s surface.
While geothermal energy remains the reserve of a lucky few worldwide, the means to spread the benefits of this clean source of energy could help us in the fight to tackle climate change during the next century. Who knew so much power could reside right beneath our very noses?
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