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Geothermal energy

Interesting read about the town of Klamath Falls, Oregon, where they take advantage of an unusual feature to keep things warm.

A combination of hot rocks and water like those that created Yellowstone’s geysers have been tapped by the city to keep the sidewalks toasty since the early 1990s. They also heat downtown buildings, kettles at a brewhouse, and greenhouses and keep the lights on at a college campus.

Geothermal wells in this town of 20,000 mark one of the nation’s most ambitious uses of a green energy resource with a tiny carbon footprint, and could serve as a model for a still-fledgling industry that is gaining steam with $338 million in stimulus funds and more than 100 projects nationwide.

“We didn’t know it was green. It just made sense,” said City Manager Jeff Ball.

While it’s probably just as well that we don’t have self-heating sidewalks here in Houston, geothermal energy is a mostly untapped source of green energy, one that is now getting a more serious look.

Until now, geothermal energy has been limited by having to find the three essentials ingredients occurring together in one place naturally: hot rock relatively close to the surface, water, and cracks in the rock that serve as a reservoir.

Those limitations go away if engineers can tame a technology known as EGS, for Enhanced Geothermal Systems.

A 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology report estimates that EGS, with support, could be producing 100 gigawatts of electricity — equivalent to 1,000 coal-fired or nuclear power plants — by 2050, and has the potential to generate a large fraction of the nation’s energy needs for centuries to come.

“If we are going to try to achieve a transformational change in this country, geothermal should be part of that recipe,” said Jefferson Tester, chairman of the committee that produced the report and professor of sustainable energy at Cornell University. “It’s not treated that way. It’s typically forgotten.”

You can see that study here. The HMNS blog, from which I got that link, has some discussion of it. We do have at least one geothermal lease in Texas, or we did as of three years ago. I don’t know where that stands today, and the General Land Office website lacks a search function, so I can’t say for sure. Anyway, the stimulus bill steered some money into geothermal projects, so keep an eye on this. Every little bit of non-carbon energy helps.

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