Geothermal Power: Clean, Renewable, Baseload Energy

Geothermal Power
The Leathers geothermal power plant in Calipatria, CA. Courtesy U.S.D.O.E.

Why shouldn’t we have clean, renewable, base load power from a domestic source? It isn’t solar (made in China and doesn’t work when the sun isn’t shining) or wind (kills golden eagles and doesn’t work when the wind isn’t blowing hard enough), it is geothermal!

From the United States Department of Energy:

What are the benefits of using geothermal energy?

Answer: Several attributes make it a good source of energy.

  • First, it’s clean. Energy can be extracted without burning a fossil fuel such as coal, gas, or oil. Geothermal fields produce only about one-sixth of the carbon dioxide that a relatively clean natural-gas-fueled power plant produces, and very little if any, of the nitrous oxide or sulfur-bearing gases. Binary plants, which are closed cycle operations, release essentially no emissions.
  • Geothermal energy is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Geothermal power plants have average availabilities of 90% or higher, compared to about 75% for coal plants.
  • Geothermal power is homegrown, reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

Why is geothermal energy a renewable resource?

Answer: Because its source is the almost unlimited amount of heat generated by the Earth’s core. Even in geothermal areas dependent on a reservoir of hot water, the volume taken out can be reinjected, making it a sustainable energy source.

What are the environmental impacts of using geothermal energy?

Answer: Geothermal technologies offer many environmental advantages over conventional power generation:

  • Emissions are low. Only excess steam is emitted by geothermal flash plants. No air emissions or liquids are discharged by binary geothermal plants, which are projected to become the dominant technology in the near future.
  • Salts and dissolved minerals contained in geothermal fluids are usually reinjected with excess water back into the reservoir at a depth well below groundwater aquifers. This recycles the geothermal water and replenishes the reservoir. The City of Santa Rosa, California, pipes the city’s treated wastewater up to The Geysers power plants to be used for reinjection fluid. This system will prolong the life of the reservoir as it recycles the treated wastewater.
  • Some geothermal plants do produce some solid materials, or sludges, that require disposal in approved sites. Some of these solids are now being extracted for sale (zinc, silica, and sulfur, for example), making the resource even more valuable and environmentally friendly.

What is the visual impact of geothermal technologies?

Answer: District heating systems and geothermal heat pumps are easily integrated into communities with almost no visual impact. Geothermal power plants use relatively small acreages, and don’t require storage, transportation, or combustion of fuels. Either no emissions or just steam are visible. These qualities reduce the overall visual impact of power plants in scenic regions.

Is it possible to deplete geothermal reservoirs?

Answer: The long-term sustainability of geothermal energy production has been demonstrated at the Lardarello field in Italy since 1913, at the Wairakei field in New Zealand since 1958, and at The Geysers field in California since 1960. Pressure and production declines have been experienced at some plants, and operators have begun reinjecting water to maintain reservoir pressure. The City of Santa Rosa, California, pipes its treated wastewater up to The Geysers to be used as reinjection fluid, thereby prolonging the life of the reservoir while recycling the treated wastewater.

How much does geothermal energy cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh)?

Answer: At The Geysers, power is sold at $0.03 to $0.035 per kWh. A power plant built today would probably require about $0.05 per kWh. Some plants can charge more during peak demand periods.

What does it cost to develop a geothermal power plant?

Answer: Costs of a geothermal plant are heavily weighted toward early expenses, rather than fuel to keep them running. Well drilling and pipeline construction occur first, followed by resource analysis of the drilling information. Next is design of the actual plant. Power plant construction is usually completed concurrent with final field development. The initial cost for the field and power plant is around $2500 per installed kW in the U.S., probably $3000 to $5000/kWe for a small (<1Mwe) power plant. Operating and maintenance costs range from $0.01 to $0.03 per kWh. Most geothermal power plants can run at greater than 90% availability (i.e., producing more than 90% of the time), but running at 97% or 98% can increase maintenance costs. Higher-priced electricity justifies running the plant 98% of the time because the resulting higher maintenance costs are recovered.

Alternative Energy in California

Ethan Bearman, talk show host, discussing alternative energy in California and the lack of direction for geothermal as a the only renewable, non-pollution, base load power source available today.

Article referred to from the Los Angeles TimesCalifornia’s alternative-energy program under scrutiny

Here is an article on Clean Energy and the issues facing the transition CLICK HERE

Inconsistencies Regarding Clean Energy

Watch the video above. It was presented to me as a great David versus Goliath story of “green” energy triumphing over Xcel Energy in Boulder, Colorado.

There are so many problems with the video, I simply cannot address them all.

Starting off, the wildfires in Colorado are presented as if there have never been worse fires. This is a complete falsehood that media outlets are perpetrating due to a lack of historical knowledge. Did you know that wildfires were actually worse before the European settlers? Native Americans intentionally burned large amounts of North America and did it regularly to alter the ecosystem. So much for tabula rasa regarding the indigenous people. Also there is significant evidence for the argument that settlers actually helped reduce forest fires and our movement toward naturalism in our forests have exacerbated the fires.

There are also two primary problems in “clean” energy: what is your definition of clean energy, and is the clean energy proposed a baseload power source. For all that video does to market what Boulder is doing, they ignore that coal plants are only being replaced by natural gas plants due to the reduced cost of natural gas for the power companies. As Michelle Kinman, Clean Energy Advocate for Environment California said on my show, no coal plant has been shut down in California with all of our clean energy mandates.

I suggest the entire environmental movement has been taken by other big money interests as there are hundreds of billions of dollars per year to be made in solar and wind. The subsidies for those industries are enormous and we still don’t have energy storage addressing when the sun isn’t shining and/or the wind isn’t blowing. Let alone the environmental damage happening in China (out of sight, out of mind anyone?) due to rare earth mineral mining, theft of the entire solar panel industry, and the massive pollution due to transportation of those Chinese-made solar panels all the way across the Pacific Ocean to our shores.

That’s right, are you going to turn off your television, computer, refrigerator, power charger, lights, microwave, and more when the sun goes behind a cloud or the wind dies down? This is the elephant in the room regarding non-baseload power sources. Thus we still need coal, oil, and nuclear power plants.

Everyone seems to ignore geothermal as the only clean, baseload power source that emits no pollution at all. And that is because there isn’t enough money to be made from geothermal, unlike solar and wind. 

Lastly, none of the above address the fundamental problem of a centralized power grid. Why not move to a neighborhood grid model where neighborhoods are in control and can choose what is best for them? For example, this solid oxide fuel cell could power a whole neighborhood. Or your development might choose solar panels on every roof, a windmill near the community pool, and a natural gas generator behind the pond, without ever connecting to the grid.

Think of the possibilities we can accomplish when relegating stale ideas to the trash bin and begin to creatively approach the problems we face. It is possible to reduce our reliance on hydrocarbons, but blind faith to a dogmatic approach should best be left to religion and not energy policy.

EDIT 09/03/2013 – I almost forgot another major problem with the Chinese stealing the solar panel business, a horrible defect rate of up to 22 percent. So now the environmentally damaging Chinese panels will possibly fail in two years instead of the promised 25 year lifespan. Don’t take my word for it, this information is from the New York Times.  Also, those giant solar plants in the desert are not only sucking up preciously scarce water resources, but killing endangered birds. Water birds are turning up dead. Stick with solar and wind for off-grid where buying the battery banks make sense. But grid-interconnect, no.

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Just Say No To Campfires And Grilling

 

No more bonfires at the beach
No more bonfires at the beach

In the latest blow to even the most hard core, cave dwelling, stone-age-style living environmentalist, soot is now being blamed as nearly equal to carbon emissions for cranking up the thermostat on our planet.

Grilling a hamburger, enjoying a fire at the beach, cooking with something other than a solar oven, and old-style diesel engines (which are still in use outside the United States), are all perpetuating the drastic, human caused, global warming.

Really, the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres (that is the name, I verified it) as reported by Slashgear, is claiming that new studies show soot from the aforementioned human activities have a much greater impact on global warming than previously thought. Nearly equal to that dastardly carbon.

And here I thought that cave dwelling, dead wood fuel burning, hunting and gathering was the ideal of the extremists in the environmental movement. I guess they need to reassess what the ideal really is since wood burning is now on the hit list as greatly problematic.

It seems impossible to keep track of what you can and cannot do. Let me see if I have this right. The following is a list of forbidden activities:

  • No driving a car or any transportation that isn’t exclusively solar powered since everything else creates carbon pollution
  • No heating or cooling your living or work quarters, all climate adjusting is limited to blankets, layering clothing, or hand fanning
  • No using electricity for any device unless exclusively solar powered
  • Forget all previous solar powered things since the batteries are manufactured and transported by a carbon and soot spewing manufacturing and logistics chain
  • No burning wood since the soot and carbon are a one-two punch of greenhouse evil
  • No grilling a burger or vegetable since the soot will bring about the destruction of the planet

Now that the alarmists are shaking their heads at the logic listed above, let me clarify something for you. Please do conserve where possible, don’t be wasteful and inefficient. Let’s find reasonable methods to conserve and preserve our environment that also don’t make me feel like I need to revert to Stone Age style living.

I am tired of GLOBAL WARMING having taking up all the air about the environment. Clean air, clean water, reduce chemical pollution, and basic health should all be the focus.

Start by exploiting our geothermal resources for electricity since it is a clean, renewable, baseload source for the grid. Second, use more of our natural gas since it is significantly cleaner than other hydrocarbon sources, meaning lower in carbon and nearly zero sulfur and mercury emissions . Third, let’s stop with the sky-is-falling tactics and take a rational approach to living balanced lives with concern for others and the environment in which we live.

So go enjoy your food, walk or ride your bicycle when possible, plant a food garden, speak loudly with your wallet, and remember that humans are not all that bad.

 

Major Geothermal Opportunities in U.S.

GoogleSMU

According to a news report that just came out from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, a study was completed in conjunction with Google that has measured a massive amount of geothermal energy available in the United States. So much so that ten times the amount of energy is available from geothermal than is currently produced by coal burning plants.

If you want to see what tapping geothermal on a large scale can do for a country, take a look at Iceland. Alcan, Century Aluminum, and Alcoa have actually built huge aluminum plants in Iceland simply because of the cheap energy and shipping capability.

The U.S. could benefit greatly by embracing this opportunity and becoming a leader in the world for geothermal. Plus, how could you possibly have a problem with reducing sulfur and mercury emissions?

More from the report:
Sophisticated mapping produced from the research, viewable via Google Earth at www.google.org/egs, demonstrates that vast reserves of this green, renewable source of power generated from the Earth’s heat are realistically accessible using current technology.
The results of the new research, from SMU Hamilton Professor of Geophysics David Blackwell and Geothermal Lab Coordinator Maria Richards, confirm and refine locations for resources capable of supporting large-scale commercial geothermal energy production under a wide range of geologic conditions, including significant areas in the eastern two-thirds of the United States. The estimated amounts and locations of heat stored in the Earth’s crust included in this study are based on nearly 35,000 data sites – approximately twice the number used for Blackwell and Richards’ 2004 Geothermal Map of North America, leading to improved detail and contouring at a regional level.