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Advancements in Geothermal Energy Could Help the Environment and Investors
Technological advances in geothermal energy could soon lead to a widespread commercial solution that creates energy cheaply, and is environmentally friendly. The US government has increased its commitment to developing this technology, which could present opportunities for investment. See the following article from Money Morning for more on this.
Geothermal energy isn't a new concept in the United States.
It's actually been around for some time, with numerous geothermal power plants in California, Nevada and a few other western states. There are new plants on the drawing board, too. Unfortunately, the recession has stifled the construction progress on many of them.
But all that's about to change. Thanks to a few key technological developments - and a big cash infusion from the government - the stars are aligning to produce the perfect storm for this super-green energy source.
The Benefits of Geothermal Energy
If you're unfamiliar with how geothermal energy is produced, here's a quick-and-simple overview of how the process works:
- A well is drilled over an underground hydrothermal (hot water or steam) heat source (in the United States, most are located in a few western states).
- The hot steam or water is piped up from below.
- That steam spins a turbine, which is connected to an electrical generator.
- And that generates useable electricity.
Naturally, the benefits of this energy source are very clear. Geothermal power is:
- Environmentally Friendly : You can't get much greener than geothermal. There's no pollution, no greenhouse emissions and the cooled water is re-injected back to where it came from via a second well.
- Cheap : Geothermal power plants are cheap, unassuming and relatively simple to maintain. In industry-speak, they're "baseload" sources - in other words, they operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
But there's a key requirement - and it's a big one.
Getting Steamy Isn't Easy
The problem with geothermal power in many cases is that conventional plants have to be constructed over known hydrothermal sources. And those only exist in a few concentrated areas.
However, as with many things these days, new technology is making it possible to overcome obstacles. In this case, even when there isn't any hot water or steam readily available, you can still get some.
Nearly two decades ago, scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico determined that the rise in temperature as you descend into the Earth is roughly 125°F per mile. Drill down two miles or so and you'd have rocks hot enough to produce steam. This is the result of heat from the Earth's molten core radiating up toward the surface.
Accomplishing all this isn't all that simple. Once you inject water into the well, the rock next to the borehole cools. When it cools enough, you don't get any more steam. This seemed like an insurmountable problem - until recently, that is.
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