How can Geothermal Energy Combat Climate Change?
History says that the first use of geothermal energy occurred more than 10,000 years ago in North America by American Paleo-Indians. People used water from hot springs for cooking, bathing and cleaning.
The first industrial use of geothermal energy began near Pisa, Italy in late 18th century. Steam coming from natural vents was used to extract boric acid from the hot pools that are now known as the Larderello fields.
More than a century later, the Larderello plant still runs, and most of the world’s 13 gigawatts of geothermal electricity generation are located along boundaries between tectonic plates, where liquid bodies made themselves apparent on the surface in some way.
What is Geothermal Energy’s Impact?
Recent calculations assume geothermal grows from 0.66 percent of global electricity generation to 4.9 percent by 2050. This growth could reduce emissions by 16.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide and save $1 trillion in energy costs over 30 years and $2.1 trillion over the lifetime of the infrastructure. By providing baseload electricity, geothermal also supports expansion of various renewables.
What are the sector’s challenges?
Unlike wind and solar installations which can be built more or less anywhere, Geothermal Power Plants can only be built on geological hotspots that exists less than 10 % of our planet. Secondly, even in hot spots like Iceland, Engineers must deal with the most daunting technical challenge facing geothermal. Drilling! That’s because all successful Geothermal ventures require three vital elements. Hot Rock, Water and close proximity to the resource. Thirdly, money and potential exploration risks are additional issues to be dealt with.
So, pinpointing subsurface resources has been a challenge and limitation for geothermal power. It is difficult to know where reservoirs are and expensive to drill wells to find out. However, new exploration techniques are opening up larger territories.
New Approaches – Enhanced Geothermal Systems
Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) are engineered reservoirs created to produce energy from geothermal resources that are otherwise not economical due to lack of water and/or permeability. EGS technology has the potential for accessing the earth’s vast resources of heat located at depth to help meet our energy needs.
This innovation could dramatically increase the geographic reach of geothermal energy and help address a critical challenge for renewables: providing baseload or readily dispatchable power. Geothermal production has the benefit of taking place at all hours and under almost all weather conditions. Geothermal is reliable, efficient and the heat source itself is free.
Geothermal Energy – The Global Picture.
At the end of 2015, global installed geothermal power capacity reached 13.2 GW. The countries with the largest installed capacity were the US, Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico and New Zealand.
World geothermal heat use (direct & storage) reached in 2014 563 PJs. Roughly 40% represents direct use; the balance comprises energy used from heat pumps. China dominates heat usage with over half of the world’s consumption. Europe is the second largest user with 30% of world consumption. Direct heat use is geographically concentrated in regions above 35o latitude due to heating requirements during winter.
Geothermal Energy – The Opportunity
There is potential to achieve at least a tenfold increase in the global production of heat and electricity from geothermal energy – heat emitted from within the earth’s crust – between now and 2050.
“This would be an important contribution to global efforts of reducing carbon emissions, using a reliable source of energy that is available all over the world, every day of the year, as it does not fluctuate with the weather or season,” IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka
According to the Geothermal Energy Association, 39 countries could supply 100 percent of their electricity needs from geothermal energy, yet only 6 to 7 per cent of the world’s potential geothermal power has been tapped.
Geothermal Energy – The Future
With the outlook for all renewable energies on the upswing following signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, geothermal will receive focused global support from the Global Geothermal Alliance, which pledged during the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to support efforts designed to help the industry realize a five-fold increase in global installed geothermal capacity by 2030. Given that ultimate goal, the industry would be expected to install an additional 40 GW beyond the current 2020 target.
The U.S., Indonesia and Mexico have the potential to continue their positions as leaders in the industry, while current activities in the Caribbean, Chile and Kenya show that these up-and-coming regions also could do their part to drive new developments in the years to come.
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