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The Potential of Geothermal Power

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the much-better-than-burning-goo dept.

Power 397

EskimoJoe wrote with a link to an AP article about progress in the development of geothermal energy. A Swiss company is competing with another in Australia to be the first to commercially develop a geothermal power plant. The concept is simple to understand: earth's core heat transforms water into steam, which in turn causes a turbine to revolve. The potential, though, is enormous. "Scientists say this geothermal energy, clean, quiet and virtually inexhaustible, could fill the world's annual needs 250,000 times over with nearly zero impact on the climate or the environment. A study released this year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said if 40 percent of the heat under the United States could be tapped, it would meet demand 56,000 times over. It said an investment of $800 million to $1 billion could produce more than 100 gigawatts of electricity by 2050, equaling the combined output of all 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S."

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397 comments

Misleading (5, Informative)

Remusti (1131423) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119615)

The summary is misleading, Geothermal power [wikipedia.org] plants already exist.

Re:Misleading (1)

vtcodger (957785) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119687)

***The summary is misleading, Geothermal power plants already exist***

The article mentions that in fact. I think they meant the first geothermal plant using deliberately injected water as opposed to heated water/steam that occurs naturally.

Re:Misleading (1)

gringer (252588) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119829)

I think they meant the first geothermal plant using deliberately injected water as opposed to heated water/steam that occurs naturally.
Oh, right. I get you now. You mean something like this:

http://www.nzgeothermal.org.nz/geothermal_energy/n z_geothermal_fields.asp#Wairakei_Tauhara [nzgeothermal.org.nz]

Separated water from the Wairakei field is used to provide fluids for the Netcor tourist facility, and a heat source for a prawn farm adjacent to the Wairakei power station. About half of the separated water is now reinjected and half is discharged to the Waikato River.
Or...

The station currently generates around 200 GWh per year. About half of the steam condensate is reinjected while the remainder is discharged to air through the cooling towers.
Then again, having not read the article, I suppose this could be describing injection into dry rock, which then means that it's not possible to (initially) use water that didn't originate at the heat source.

Re:Misleading (3, Interesting)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119949)

Then again, having not read the article, I suppose this could be describing injection into dry rock

It includes injection, but the key part is drilling into hot parts of the earth's crust, fracturing the rock, then injecting water into the fractured rock and harvesting the steam.

Both the summary and TFA are a little misleading. HDR is being tested in many parts of the world, including Japan, France, Australia and the US. The Australian site is here; http://www.geodynamics.com.au/IRM/content/home.htm l [geodynamics.com.au].

It's a promising approach to clean power generation, but it won't work everywhere. HDR relies on a steeper than normal thermal gradient. Temperature rises with depth at a rate of about 20c/km on average, so hole depths without the steep gradient are too great for power generation to be economically feasible.

Re:Misleading (3, Interesting)

OddesE (1100455) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120195)

If they dump excess heat in a nearby river it has a very real environmental impact. Lot's of fish get into trouble if the water they live in rises in temperature too much. In holland we have had a few occasions where the national grid operator, TenneT, gave a 'code red' because electricity supply was becoming endangered, because power plants could no longer dump excess heat in the rivers because the temperature got too high. At some point they can't dump the heat anymore and have to shut down.

Re:Misleading (2, Insightful)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120507)

If they dump excess heat in a nearby river it has a very real environmental impact.

Perhaps, but;

  1. The Geodynamics project is in the middle of a desert in South Australia. The nearest river is hundreds of kilometres away.
  2. That heat is energy. The HDR system uses that energy to turn turbines, and recycles the water back down the bore. There is no excess.
Excess heat is as relevant to a HDR generator as CO emissions are to an electric motor.

Re:Misleading (1, Insightful)

VirusEqualsVeryYes (981719) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119707)

No, the summary said a "Swiss company is competing ... to be the first to commercially develop a geothermal power plant," which is nearly word-for-word what the actual article said. The article reveals almost nothing, unfortunately. The Wikipedia article to which you linked isn't clear, but the few geothermal plans mentioned in it seem to be spotty efforts, not a large-scale one. The corporation that owns most of the existing plants isn't doing too well in terms of stock price, so I'm assuming that's what "commercial" is referring to, that there's been a breakthrough in profit-making in the area of geothermal power generation.

Capitalism in action. Fuck the environment unless it makes you money. At least it might work out in the environment's favor this time.

Re:Misleading (0)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119811)

Capitalism in action. Fuck the environment unless it makes you money.
This is human nature ((Actually, it's more than human nature, it's the nature of all life), nothing to do with capitalism. Socialist states are as bad or worse environmentally.

 

Re:Misleading (2, Insightful)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119953)

Human nature in the western culture, you mean. IIRC American Indians, many African cultures, and even our old agricultural society were much respectful of the environment. Current myopic stance started with the industrial revolution, which i suspect was carried off by few powerful people.

As a side note, i also think we've been trained to think that the possibilities are communism, fascism, or the status quo (which is not capitalism and with no real free market, both being result of what the banking and insurance big fish decide).
Instead scientific and technological development didn't need to victimize the environment, or replace spirituality, or try to replace religion.

Re:Misleading (5, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120005)

IIRC American Indians, many African cultures, and even our old agricultural society were much respectful of the environment.

Bullshit. The American indians simply lacked the technology to have a significant impact on their environment until they got horses, at which point their population expanded and they routinely exhausted hunting grounds, and became far more mobile as a result. As for African cultures, the majority of the Sahara desert became so because of goats, which were protected from predators by humans.

The fact is, it's the industrialized world that first became concerned about the environment, because we're rich enough to have the luxury of considering issues beyond subsistence.

-jcr

Re:Misleading (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120219)

I was talking about the philosophy of life and you talk about objective impact. Anyway let's stick to the impact. Where is the squandering of resources in the civilizations I talked about? What are Indian or African SUVs? Isn't there a difference?

Re:Misleading (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120431)

Bullshit. The American indians simply lacked the technology to have a significant impact on their environment until they got horses, at which point their population expanded and they %Broutinely exhausted hunting grounds%B, and became far more mobile as a result. As for African cultures, the %Bmajority of the Sahara desert became so because of goats, which were protected from predators by humans%B.

SUVs do not cause mass extinction or turn large geographical areas into wastelands in a few hundred years or less. We aren't squandering resources, we're making a series of small fires. (Oil isn't exactly a natural resource... it's a waste product, NOTHING consumes it and NOTHING lives off it. We just have the misfortune of being inventive with the earth's crap.)

Re:Misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120481)


What are Indian or African SUVs? Isn't there a difference?

Do you ever go through a modern Indian reserve? They all drive monsterous trucks and SUVs. There isn't a hybrid or bicycle in the whole place for anyone over the driving age.

You're fooling yourself with PC-tinted glasses if you think they're somehow more respectful of the Earth than the evil whiteys.

Re:Misleading (1, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120091)

"Human nature in the western culture, you mean. IIRC American Indians, many African cultures, and even our old agricultural society were much respectful of the environment."

Slash and burn will not feed 6,000,000,000 people! The "cultural revolution" you are suggesting has already been tried by China and was found wanting (for food mainly).

"Instead scientific and technological development didn't need to victimize the environment, or replace spirituality, or try to replace religion."

So exactly what would you like to throw out, since throwing out ALL "scientific and technological development" (ie:ideas and tools) put's humans somewhere below birds on the eveloutionary tree of brain-power?

Re:Misleading (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120313)

>Slash and burn will not feed 6 billion people!

Then we either need technology and or less people around. I thought i was clear in not considering technology as inherent evil. It is when it's used as a religion, just as religion is evil when it's used outside its scope.

Besides, 6 billion people won't be around for long if tech breakthroughs are not made available (note I don't use "discover") s is anyway so what's the greatness of this achievement? It's like indebting yourself bloodless to get a porsche at age 23. Feasible? yes. If you pay up the interest, you'll think you are a genius, if you don't you'll consider yourself a failed man. The difference between the two being hard work and circumstances. But the porsche here is the earth and we're betting it on hard work and circumstances.

> So exactly what would you like to throw out, since throwing out ALL...

I said something in the lines above which is a starting point. Geothermal against nuclear if you need something practical. Besides you having written "throwing out ALL" is a convenient 100% recycled straw man argument.
 

Re:Misleading (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120095)

Human nature in the western culture, you mean. IIRC American Indians, many African cultures, and even our old agricultural society were much respectful of the environment.

You've been believing that "noble savage in harmony with nature" claptrap again. Didn't happen then, isn't about to start. The Amerinds, for instance, were well on their way to exterminating the buffalo wothout our (enthusiastic) help, once they got hold of horses and could do it easily. This ignoring all the places and times they used fire to alter the local area, just like the Australian Abos did.

Pretty much the same in Africa - or did you think the Sahara happened because we discovered oil there?

Re:Misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120273)

Ah, human *nature*...then I guess everything is in order, eh? Carry on...

Re:Misleading (5, Informative)

blowdart (31458) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119847)

Spotty effects? Iceland's geothermal power plants provide 26% of the power there (the majority is from hydroelectric), plus geothermal heating plants heat around 87% of homes. On the other hand the baths and showers I had there did stink of sulphur.

Re:Misleading (1)

Stephan Schulz (948) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120063)

The Wikipedia article to which you linked isn't clear, but the few geothermal plans mentioned in it seem to be spotty efforts, not a large-scale one. The corporation that owns most of the existing plants isn't doing too well in terms of stock price, so I'm assuming that's what "commercial" is referring to, that there's been a breakthrough in profit-making in the area of geothermal power generation.
Well, the nation of Iceland uses geothermal energy for more than half of its total primary energy input, including the generation of about 20% of its electricity. Icesland has only about 300000 inhabitants, but still, I would not call that "spotty". They use fossil fuel nearly exclusively for transportation, and hope to get rid of than by 2050 as well.

Of course it helps if you are sitting on a volcanic hot spot ;-)

Yeah but they don't reflect well on Australia. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20119995)

Zonk is here to promote Australia.

It's what he does! It's all he does! Who is in authority here?

Oh, he's also here to post lots and lots of dupes.

"Zonk for President. Because you thought it couldn't get any worse..."

Re:Yeah but they don't reflect well on Australia. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120309)

Recently he's been posting interesting articles, like ones about the Mac worms..... go go Zonk.. and dupes...??? where ... i see no dupes by zonk

Re:Misleading (1)

GoatBastard (1103911) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120113)

You could also say that the heat doesn't really come from the core of the planet, rather from radioactive decay in the crust. My local swimming pool is heated geothermally, it only costs $5000 per year to pump the water underground and up again. Compared with $200 000 for electrical heating and $150 000 for gas. Luckily the pool is in an area where the hot rocks are only 3km underground. It will still take some time to recover the initial costs but worth it in the long run i think.

Global Warming? (2, Funny)

saibot834 (1061528) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119619)

I don't know if this method is supposed to be much more eco-friendly, but to me it sounds like that would make it much warmer up here, on the earth's surface...

Re:Global Warming? (2, Insightful)

Sproggit (18426) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119649)

Actually it would make it cooler, since that energy was already heat, and we are changing it to electricty....

Re:Global Warming? (1)

zCyl (14362) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119823)

Actually it would make it cooler, since that energy was already heat, and we are changing it to electricty....

Attention. You have just violated a law of thermodynamics. Please report for sentencing.

Re:Global Warming? (2, Interesting)

Sproggit (18426) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119885)

Nope, no violations here officer.
The amount of cooling of the crust would equate (minus inefficiencies) to electricity produced.
This electricity would be converted to other forms of energy (and ultimately, more heat, I suspect).

Total overall energy in closed system would therefore remain constant, and thermodynamic laws are satisifed.

OK?

Re:Global Warming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20119905)

Nope, no violations here officer.
The amount of cooling of the crust would equate (minus inefficiencies) to electricity produced.
This electricity would be converted to other forms of energy (and ultimately, more heat, I suspect).

Total overall energy in closed system would therefore remain constant, and thermodynamic laws are satisifed.

OK?
No. Not even close. The temperature below the Earth's surface is (colder than) (equal to) (warmer than) the temperature at the surface.

*I'll give you a hint: circle the bold one.

Re:Global Warming? (1)

Sproggit (18426) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119961)

Oh for Chrissakes, are you being dense on purpose?
By pumping water to a point underneath the crust you are heating the water (and cooling that point by the same amount).
This happens because that point is warmer than the water (and since the water probably comes from the surface, yes warmer than the surface, that has fuckall to do with the argument).

This means that energy is transferred to the water, energy is lost by the point underneath the crust in the form of cooling (molecular kinetic energy lost). That energy is tranferred to the water to an equivalent amount, in both the forms of molecular kinetic energy (heat) as well as the energy required for phase change (water to steam).

Since using a turbine was suggested, the fact that steam (water endowed with energy enough to undergo phase change) tends to rise is used to spin the blades of said turbine. This motion is then used to generate electricity by means of induced electron flow. (Stator, electromagnets, whatever the generator setup connected to turbine)

SO:

HEAT -> Phase change -> kinetic energy -> electricity.

The crust, and every damn thing currently being heated by that point will cool down to a corresponding amount to the energy generated.

FFS, this is elementary stuff.

PS
* I'll give you a hint, go fuck yourself.

Re:Global Warming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120033)

You really have no clue. Most people would stop digging a hole while they were ahead.

Since using a turbine was suggested, the fact that steam (water endowed with energy enough to undergo phase change) tends to rise is used to spin the blades of said turbine. This motion is then used to generate electricity by means of induced electron flow. (Stator, electromagnets, whatever the generator setup connected to turbine)

SO:

HEAT -> Phase change -> kinetic energy -> electricity.

The crust, and every damn thing currently being heated by that point will cool down to a corresponding amount to the energy generated.
2nd law of thermodynamics. Some heat must be rejected when converting some other heat to useful work. You would have thought that you would have looked up the 2nd law when it was cited before. I suggest you do so now.

You are correct in one thing. The average enthalpy of the entire fucking planet will stay the same. But the surface will warm (due to rejected heat *and* the fact that the electricity you generate is going to degrade to heat eventually).

*I'll give you another hint: don't try to bullshit physics in a board that is known to have physicists.

Re:Global Warming? (1)

Sproggit (18426) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120213)

While your physics MAY be good, I'm afraid your reading comprehension is less so.
You are clearly referring to Kelvins third formulation:
"It is impossible to convert heat completely into work."

So granted, SOME of the other forms of energy (mostly kinetic in my example) will by definition be lost as heat.
Since NOT 100% is lost as heat (Since that would be a pretty fucking useless power plant), you grant that SOME of that energy previously in the form of heat has become a different form of energy? (electricity, light, sound waves, I don't give a shit).

Since you claim to know the second law, I suppose you are aware of Clausius' heat formulation:
"Heat cannot spontaneously flow from a material at lower temperature to a material at higher temperature."
The surface of the earth is ALREADY being heated (possibly more efficiently than via all this state change and wastage) by the higher temperatures of the lower crust and below.

The original poster's contention was that it would make it "much warmer" on the surface.
This assumes:
a) That the temperature of the surface is not already increased to the same extant as waste and ultimateley produced heat from the generated energy.
b) That the amount of heat unintentionally generated would be enough to make an LARGE (i.e much, many, big amount, lots, not a little bit at all) difference, even taking into account the localised drop in temperature at the point of geothermal electricity generation.

The enthalpy of the planet cannot remain the same, since the planet is NOT a closed system, go back to undergrad class sonny. That is not the question under debate.

* Penultimate hint: Learn to read.
* Final hint: You're not the only physicist on the board, but you fail to rate as one of the logicians.

Re:Global Warming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120307)

What are you trying to do--win the Nobel Prize in Bullshit? You really have no clue what you are talking about. I feel embarrassed for you. You have abandoned the physics argument for a purely semantics argument with the exception of one glaring error:

The enthalpy of the planet cannot remain the same, since the planet is NOT a closed system
It can and it does. I recommend you think about heat generation and heat loss in more detail.

*I'll give you another hint: my bath water level is not changing even though I opened the drain. How could this be so?

Re:Global Warming? (1)

Sproggit (18426) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120389)

Does the earth emit ANY form of radiation?
If so its thermodynamic potential cannot remain the same.
Since the earth emits some energy into space, its clearly not a closed system.

Since you are unable to address any of the other points, you win the fucktard prize of the week.

* Probably because you never put any water in, either that or your single lonely braincell has leaked out and managed to clog the drain.

Only if they increase the natural flow (1)

apsmith (17989) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119653)

But it sounds like that is what they're proposing. As far as I'm aware, the natural flow of geothermal energy from below the surface is only 45 TW [altenergyaction.org], and the world already using close to 15 TW, so the total available is 3 times world energy use, not 250,000 times ???

Re:Only if they increase the natural flow (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119741)

As far as I'm aware, the natural flow of geothermal energy from below the surface is only 45 TW

I suppose it depends on how deep you want to dig.

Re:Only if they increase the natural flow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20119875)

As far as I'm aware, the natural flow of geothermal energy from below the surface is only 45 TW

I suppose it depends on how deep you want to dig.

Don't be silly. The divergence will be the same (Gauss's Law applied to heat flux). This doesn't imply that you couldn't take more energy than the natural flow--Matrix style.

Re:Global Warming? (1)

gravos (912628) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119671)

Not to mention cooler in the core.

Would geothermal plants cause environmental problems if huge numbers were built? Almost definitely. Probably the best way to reduce overall impact from any one type of power plant is to always a mix of all the different types (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, etc)--at least that way if one kind causes damage that we don't yet understand, the damage is more limited than if we used that method for 100% of our power generation.

Re:Global Warming? (4, Interesting)

Scooter (8281) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119759)

I guess we already "make" this heat to power the turbines in power stations(i.e. we transform other types of energy into heat), so I would be inclined to say that using geothermal power would not result in a net increase of heat output on the surface. Unless perhaps, that that now guilt-free and cheap electricity causes everyone to go on a leccy binge for the next 200 years and consumption goes through the roof.

I recently visited Iceland where they use the country's ample supply of superheated steam to produce electricity (and provide hot water and heating). A related question that sprang to mind was "if the rest of the world did this, what would be the effects of letting all that heat out? Would the amount of heat that we would cause to escape from the planet's core be significant? We need a geophysicist to give a proper answer to that - but I'm a suspicious bugger and all this "free" electricity looks too good to be true - you know what they say about free lunches. Essentially, we'd be using the planet like a battery: it's just a question of how long it will last - millions of years? Thousands?

One of the other things that struck me about what the Icelanders are doing, is that they may just have struck their country's equivalent of oil. In the past, they couldn't really export their natural resource - steam goes off quite quickly. Then, they figured out how to make electricity with it, which is a bit easier to store and transport, but not out of the country. Now though, it looks like there may soon be a large world market for hydrogen, if fuel cells and other hydrogen consuming automotive engines take off. Iceland has all the ingredients to produce it - seawater, and abundant electricity. There are a number of problems to overcome in transporting it safely, but I reckon these guys may soon be rolling in it.

The Shell petrol station in Reykjavik already sells hydrogen. It's not clear who to exactly right now, but Shell obviously believes it has a future.

Re:Global Warming? (1)

FreakWent (627155) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119899)

Ignoring the effect on the core for now, bringing up x billion joules of heat into the lower atmosphere will increase temperature. All electricity 'use' is energy conversion; to heat, sound or light. Sound converts to heat; visible light probably does. I can't imagine where else non-infra-red radiation ends up in a closed box if not as heat.

In any case, there's a heat increase. People will tell you that Newton's (someone else's?) law of cooling means that the heat cools faster, which is of course true, so we won't _overheat_, but it's still a heat increase; and the heat is dissipated as infra-red light, so what we're doing is....

now that the CO2 is high and rising, and we're worried about heat being trapped under the 'blanket', it's time to pump in more heat from below!!

The only long-term workable solution is to require less joules per day per happy person, but that's unamerican.

Re:Global Warming? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20119989)

now that the CO2 is high and rising, and we're worried about heat being trapped under the 'blanket', it's time to pump in more heat from below!!

The only long-term workable solution is to require less joules per day per happy person, but that's unamerican.
You are assuming that even a minuscule change in the planetary heat flux balance will have an effect. So why don't you calculate it. Current worldwide energy use is at about 15 TW. This accounts for about 0.03 W/m^2. Human caused radiative forcing is currently at about 1.5 W/m^2. You are asking everyone to live in a cave for 0.03 W/m^2?!? You sound more anti-technology than pro-environment. In reality, it is less than 0.03 W/m^2. A lot of electricity comes from hydroelectric, wind power, and solar power which have a minimal impact (though you could argue that they change the albedo by a very minor amount).

Re:Global Warming? (1)

Scooter (8281) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120187)

gnoring the effect on the core for now, bringing up x billion joules of heat into the lower atmosphere will increase temperature.


I can see your point, but wouldn't we be making this heat from other sources anyway? (nuclear, fossil burning etc) So overall, the planet as whole will have less heat if we take heat from the core and bring it to the surface, convert it to other forms (including some back into heat) etc ?

Re:Global Warming? (1)

kbg (241421) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120371)

Some of the busses in Reykjavik are hydrogen powered, I believe this station is for them. I don't think any citizen here owns a hydrogen car yet.

I'll take a pass on this one (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20119629)

Well, usually I'm all for reducing my carbon footprint, but I've learned one thing from the movies, it's that drilling a hole in the Earth's core is bound to lead to some kind of trouble. Earthquakes, giant mutant ants, ancient evil squids... just about anything could happen.

Re:I'll take a pass on this one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20119647)

and don't forget that inadverently stopping the core from spinning will require exploding a dozen of nukes all over the place ... polluting the geo hotness. but we may be able to recycle the nuclear power technology then.

100 / 1.21 (3, Funny)

VirusEqualsVeryYes (981719) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119641)

It said an investment of $800 million to $1 billion could produce more than 100 gigawatts of electricity
Cool. Now all we need is 83 flux capacitors.

Huh? (4, Informative)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119643)

A Swiss company is competing with another in Australia to be the first to commercially develop a geothermal power plant.

I think they should go on a trip to Iceland... Frankly [wikipedia.org]...

Re:Huh? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20119693)

A Swiss company is competing with another in Australia to be the first to commercially develop a geothermal power plant.
I think they should go on a trip to Iceland... Frankly...
If they really want to see something interesting, they should descend into the crater of Sneffels [wikipedia.org] which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the calends of July. I have done this.

Arne

Re:Huh? (1)

kaiwai (765866) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119755)

Why go to iceland when there is New Zealand which already has working and commercially viable geothermal generation.

Re:Huh? (4, Funny)

Curtman (556920) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120001)

Why go to iceland when there is New Zealand which already has working and commercially viable geothermal generation.

Why go to Iceland, or New Zealand when you can go to Newfoundland and get pissed instead? Who needs to worry about electricity anyway, Alberta will take care of us.

article (or quote) must be wrong (2, Insightful)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119655)

If an investment of $1 billion could "produce more than 100 gigawatts of electricity by 2050, equaling the combined output of all 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S." then we would all be getting our electricity (and probably all of our fuels would be made using electricity) from geothermal sources.

Since I have some faith in studies from M.I.T. it seems like the writers are off by a few orders of magnitude. Probably they meant $800 billion to $1 trillion?

Re:article (or quote) must be wrong (1)

bombastinator (812664) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120055)

iirc the problem is location. Much like wind energy there are relatively few places where geothermal energy is actually a viable possibility.

The still experimental deep drilling thing seems to me to be trying to address that, but I'm not sure it's an advantage. Deliberately weakening the earth's crust is an environmental side effect people!! EARTHQUAKES!!! GAH!!! I don't think I want volcanoes in the mid west thank-you-oh-so-very-much.

Re:article (or quote) must be wrong (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120175)

No, the CSIRO has been working on this for over 10yrs that I know of and it is different to the Iceland plants. All you need for the heat is a large chunk of granite the hard part is pumping the water through the "wells". Most of the other plants I have heard of started with the water in place naturally.

Also wind is very viable provided you have you farms spread around the country, smaller nations may have a problem with "no wind" but nations like the US, Canada, Australia with their large land mass are ideal for wind generation.

Re:article (or quote) must be wrong (1)

bombastinator (812664) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120381)

I didn't say it wasn't viable. I said it is of limited utility. I was replying in particular to the projected potential of the system. Current non-dry rock systems are only usable in particular geological situations which are not particularly common. Dry rock systems it seems, can cause earthquakes.

Wind energy production is NOT economically viable throughout entire the united states.

In order to generate enough power to get your money back out of a multi million dollar wind turbine you need to be in a "wind corridor". The entire United States is not a wind corridor. There are several good ones but they are not everywhere. Power can be transferred anywhere but it can not be generated everywhere, and the amount that can be generated is limited by availability and environmental issues such as noise pollution (the things are LOUD)and proximity to bird habitats (think giant blender).
Minnesota for example is in a "wind corridor" and has ample wind generation equipment. It is still generating only around 3% of it's needs this way even though the local electrical utility has increased the payable price for wind generated electricity by allowing their customers to opt to pay more for wind generated power.

Wind is great but I don't think we're ever going to b able to run a majority of our country off of it.

Re:article (or quote) must be wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120407)

No doubt. And you can see this on NYTimes.com; I emailed them. How long do you think they will take to correct this?

Less than 1/4% of our annual military budget can get us energy equivalent to all of our nuclear plants? Yeah, right.

Re:article (or quote) must be wrong (3, Informative)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120535)

No doubt. And you can see this on NYTimes.com; I emailed them. How long do you think they will take to correct this?

Why would they correct something that they didn't get wrong? Just because a few slashdotters don't feel that the number cited is correct, you're going to tell them that they're wrong? How about doing three minutes of research to find out for yourself first? Let's hear it for "Citizen Journalism", where truthiness is more important than facts.

And for those of you playing at home, the relevent passage from the MIT study (press release here) [mit.edu] (actual study here) [inel.gov] [PDF warning] is this:
Based on growing markets in the United States for clean, base-load capacity, the panel thinks that with a combined public/private investment of about $800 million to $1 billion over a 15-year period, EGS technology could be deployed commercially on a timescale that would produce more than 100,000 MWe or 100 GWe of new capacity by 2050. This amount is approximately equivalent to the total R&D investment made in the past 30 years to EGS internationally, which is still less than the cost of a single, new-generation, clean-coal power plant.

First? WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20119661)

No chance. We have a few in New Zealand. The difference may be how deep they are willing to drill for it....

I could do with some geothermal heating right at the moment..... brrrr. Cold.

Just 40% They say.. (4, Informative)

Yazeran (313637) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119673)

Well they may be right that just 40% of the heat flow through the continental shield of the US may meet the energy demand 56k times over, the ticklish part is extracting the energy in an economic way. So far the only places where geothermal energy is usable is near active Volcanic areas where the geothermal gradient is steep enough to allow high temperatures near the surface and thus a high enough energy density to make the investment profitable (Think Iceland and California). All the other places the heat flow is too low to be usable for anything else than house heating.

Another thing one must address is that the heat flow can only be used where permeable strata exists in the ground making it possible to circulate water to extract the heat. In places with crystalline bedrock, the heat flow can not be used.

Yours Yazeran

Plan: to go to Mars one day with a hammer.

Arctic conditions (1)

pogson (856666) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119987)

Another thing one must address is that the heat flow can only be used where permeable strata exists in the ground making it possible to circulate water to extract the heat. In places with crystalline bedrock, the heat flow can not be used.

In cold regions, near the ocean, like Canada's arctic, the sea is much warmer than the ambient temperatures which go as low as -50C. A heat pump from the ocean to buildings is quite a feasible way of exploiting geo-thermal power. One lays a pipeline instead of drilling downward. Even if they just surrounded the buildings with a blanket at sea temperatures, they would cut heating costs greatly. This would actually help global warming a bit by cooling the sea slightly.

Re:Arctic conditions (1)

JDevers (83155) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120451)

Maybe not as much as you think. I haven't done the math, but 2-5C water can carry off a LOT of heat, maybe more than -50C air.

Re:Just 40% They say.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120025)

So far the only places where geothermal energy is usable is near active Volcanic areas where the geothermal gradient is steep enough to allow high temperatures near the surface and thus a high enough energy density to make the investment profitable

We've got heat exchangers, which means that we don't need very hot earth. Also, the temperature 20km down is quite sufficient to run a heat exchanger. Drilling a 20km hole is expensive, but not very difficult with modern bore rigs.

Also, the price in question might be the earth. We know that there's a corelation between greenhouse gases and climate, and that we're releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year, due to our carbon economy. Geothermal power only release greenhouse gases under construction, not during normal run.

At some time I think the question is: how much can we afford to save earth? My answer is quite simple: a lot! The price of a deep hole is nothing compared to that of destroying civilication as we know it.

Ick, measurements (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20119699)

A study released this year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said if 40 percent of the heat under the United States could be tapped, it would meet demand 56,000 times over.

Why do science journalists insist on giving human-unfriendly numbers like this? Is 40 percent feasible? No. Does 56,000 times hold any special significance? No. So why don't they say that 1% would meet demand 1,400 times over? It's a lot more realistic and more comprehensible for readers. Or why don't they say that the USA need only tap a thousandth of a percent of its heat to more than completely power the country? That's more relevant.

No impact (1)

bytesex (112972) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119717)

I'm not of the global-warming alarmists, but if you take stuff from a layer that's beneath you, and you pump it to a layer that's above you (which is what you do with coal, oil, uranium, and geothermal power plants) then you always change something in the environment. You displace heat. Or potential heat. Or waste products from heat. In other words, there's no way that this has no impact on the environment, it just has a lot _less_ impact on the environment.

Not Zero, not even close. (1, Troll)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119757)

"could fill the world's annual needs 250,000 times over with nearly zero impact on the climate or the environment"

Apparently, scientists don't realize that the construction and maintenance of power plants and power transmission infrastructure has an environmental impact.

Re:Not Zero, not even close. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20119815)

It is a poorly worded, misleading statement. I think they were trying to say you're going to build power plants no matter what source the plant runs on, solar, hydro, wind, nuclear, fossil, geothermal. The difference is that many of those have additional negative environmental effects (gas or solid wastes, damage from fuel gathering options)

Re:Not Zero, not even close. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120335)

So does posting asinine comments on the internets. So does....everything. Don't be a pedantic ass.

The numbers (4, Interesting)

el_flynn (1279) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119853)

TFA says the goal of the project is nice, but cost is a big barrier. "A so-called hot rock well three miles deep in the United States would cost $7 million to $8 million, according to the MIT study. The average cost of drilling an oil well in the U.S. in 2004 was $1.44 million, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration."

Yea, so that's about six times more expensive. But wouldn't the savings be much more in the long run? And more "environmentally friendly"? After all, according to http://www.globalissues.org/Geopolitics/ArmsTrade/ Spending.asp#USMilitarySpending [globalissues.org] US military spending was over $570 Billion in 2006. So why not spend, oh, say one percent of that figure to go towards coming up with clean energy?

Re:The numbers (1)

Karl0Erik (1138443) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120511)

Are you mad? A three mile deep well would go straight through our dear, flat earth! How is that enviromentally friendly?

geothermal pipe dream (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119877)

geothermal is nothing but a pipe dream that gets dragged up every couple of years.

a geothermal power plant is fundamentally flawed because your attempting to build a static structure on ground which is moving all the time, and it's geological activity is the very thing you need it for. the vast majority of such sites where there is enough thermal activity to make it worth while it would be too dangerous to put a power plant, and you can't just have a couple of power stations supplying the world.

any suggestion of digging great big holes is nonsense as well.

Re:geothermal pipe dream (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120159)

Just how would it be too dangerous to put a power plant in a place with high geothermal activity? It's not as if there are going to be concentrated supplies of radioactive materials there, or even tanks of fuel oil or gas. Just steam. And the motion you speak of is quite small; we're not drilling into a lava flow or the earth's core.

Re:geothermal pipe dream (1)

joelby (800301) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120191)

Ground moving all the time? Too dangerous to put a power plant? You don't have to drill into a volcano. Hot rock projects in Australia are using fractured granites at depths of around 5KM. The surface of inland Australia isn't really known for moving all the time or being dangerous, despite what you might imagine about the wildlife.

cc (1)

programmerar (915654) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119879)

Something i always think about when it comes to eco friendly enery such as this, wind-power, wave-power etc is: if we remove the heat, wind, wave - energy - from one place, are we not in fact altering the balance somewhere?

In this case, maybe this "geoheat" is part of a vast chain of effects and things relying on eachother, I'd be surprized if it was just laying there in a big void.

BUT - it sure sounds promising though!

Goethermal Reduces CO2 (3, Insightful)

Ninja Engineer (224395) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119957)

OK, so who let the morons out of the bag? The benefit of geothermal energy is not to reduce the amount of heat energy rejected into the envronment. ALL of the energy we use ends up there anyway. Thermodynamics and such, I won't bore you with the details.

But every ton of CO2 released into the atmoshere has a devastating effect on our lives. Not that CO2 is poisonous, but if significantly effects the absorption of solar energy. Why do you think there are record floods in South Asia, the polar ice cap is melting and huricane season is no longer simply interesting. It is because the condition of our atmosphere is changing.

Power produced by geothermal energy does end up producing heat. But it has an almost unnoticeable effect on our environment, and when it is shut off, its effects are shut off. This is absolutely not the case with fossil fuels, especially coal.

So get to know the science, and be afraid. Be very afraid.

Re:Goethermal Reduces CO2 (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120179)

"every ton of CO2 released into the atmoshere has a devastating effect on our lives"

OH PLEASE!!!! I can't stand the stupid greenhouse gas man made global warming rubbish being forced down my throat any longer!

C02 is a very minor greenhouse gas, with there being no substantial evidence out there that c02 drives climate change.

Here's a little science for you - the severity of our weather is determined by the tempature difference between 2 air masses, if the poles melt and the avgerage temperature increases it actually results in MORE calm weather (not necessarily a good thing for everyone as it might mean less rain for many places), the cult of global warming seems to completely skip this simple fact and blame every storm on global warming.

all these increased c02 graphs they are throwing out there, they all ignore the fact that the c02 increases happen AFTER the fucking warming, the reason being that it takes decades to warm the oceans, which are THE significant source of C02 on the planet.

This whole C02 causes the greenhouse effect is misconstrude nonsense taken from the 1970's fever of GLOBAL COOLING, in which one professor (his name escapes me) put forward that we could combat this global warming with C02, which which he was laughed at.

Re:Goethermal Reduces CO2 (2, Insightful)

Ninja Engineer (224395) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120239)

Please wake up. The science is proven. Computer models of the earth's atmosphere correspond extremely well with what is happening in real life. They prove the devastating effects of CO2 emissions. The denial of extremely strong proof might be macho cool, but it shows only a politician's understanding of the world. This is not alarmist crap.

I strongly recommend a reading of "The Weather Makers" by Tim Flannery. Please read it. Please weigh the evidence provided. Then see if your opinion remains as-is, or if you find the argument inescapable, as I did.

Re:Goethermal Reduces CO2 (1)

fimbulvetr (598306) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120439)

C02 is a very minor greenhouse gas,

Wrong:

Despite the low concentration, CO2 is a very important component of the Earth's atmosphere because it absorbs infrared radiation at wavelengths of 4.26 m (asymmetric stretching vibrational mode) and 14.99 m (bending vibrational mode) and enhances the greenhouse effect to a great degree

Source: Wikipedia.

Wikipedia's source:
http://www.amazon.com/First-Course-Atmospheric-Rad iation/dp/0972903305/ref=sr_11_1/103-2633496-84110 35?ie=UTF8&qid=1186318261&sr=11-1 [amazon.com]

Here's a little science for you - the severity of our weather is determined by the tempature difference between 2 air masses, if the poles melt and the avgerage temperature increases it actually results in MORE calm weather (not necessarily a good thing for everyone as it might mean less rain for many places), the cult of global warming seems to completely skip this simple fact and blame every storm on global warming.

Source?

Care to prove that? (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120483)

But every ton of CO2 released into the atmoshere has a devastating effect on our lives.
Really? It does? What exactly? Other than a lot of handwaving, media hysterics and politicians threatening to bring the economy to a halt in various ways I'm at a loss to see any significant effect (never mind a devastating one) on my life.

 

Fifty years too late? (1)

koryn (76105) | more than 6 years ago | (#20119971)

be the first to commercially develop a geothermal power plant
like this one that was commissioned in 1958 [contactenergy.co.nz]?

Never mind, it turns out that the summary is up to its usual (misleading) standards. If one can remember when Slashdot was a useful source of news then one is getting old...

Wow!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120011)

"Scientists say this geothermal energy, clean, quiet and virtually inexhaustible, could fill the world's annual needs 250,000 times over with nearly zero impact on the climate or the environment..."

"...if we could figure out a way to keep the pipes from getting corroded into dust by chloride ion/hydrogen sulfide/&c., without electroplating the inside of the heat exchanger with platinum at $1300/oz."

More fantasy watermelon eco-Bolshevism, predicated on the ability to eat an unbounded amount of taxes in order to satisfy some arbitrary demand for emissions limits in direct contravention to the actual expressed preferences of the people who buy the power; nothing to see here, move along, thank you, please drive through.

Oldest one is over 100 years old (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120045)

The oldest (over a century) and largest (produces 10% of the world's entire supply of geothermal electricity) is still in Italy, Larderello [wikipedia.org]. It produces more than 500 MWe.

Heat/Sound conversion (1)

Azari (665035) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120053)

I know this deals with steam powered generation, but I can't help remembering the article that was on /. a while back about converting heat to sound to electricity. I wonder how well that'd scale, if it came to burying a whole bunch of the converters.

(I'm no physicist, armchair or others, but I'd love this explained to me in nice simple small words :)

What are the side effects of geothermal? (1)

t0qer (230538) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120133)

I thought for a long time how great geothermal must be, then I thought about the possible drawbacks and long term effects.

For instance, ever heat glass up and shove it in a tub of water? It shatters. Rock 3 miles under the earth, under pressure from all the rock above it, and heated from the core is probably just as brittle as glass. The article did mention earthquakes.

Also what effect would this have on the magma flows below the rocks? I would imagine a geothermal cooled area might create stalagtites around the cooled area, much like the lava vents on the bottom of the sea floor, but in reverse. These cool stalagtites spread all over the earth would certainly have an effect on the magma flow.

With the magma flow change, what effect would that have on the Earths magnetosphere? What about other volcanic areas? Would they suddenly dry up because we're sucking the heat out from somewhere else?

On the surface geothermal looks great, but what about underneath the surface? We don't even know if there is long term effects at this point.

Re:What are the side effects of geothermal? (1)

Sproggit (18426) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120333)

Any idea how thin the crust is in relation to the rest of the planet?

Re:What are the side effects of geothermal? (2, Informative)

vrmlguy (120854) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120357)

First off, there are no such things as "stalagtites". There are only stalactites (which hang tight from the ceiling) and stalagmites (which stand mightily on the ground); from your description I presume that you mean the latter. However, both are formed by dripping water, so perhaps you mean the tufa towers of Mono Lake [wikipedia.org]. But those formed underwater and were only exposed when Los Angeles started diverting water from nearby rivers and the lake's water level fell. But no matter what you mean, these projects will only effect a very thin layer of the upper-most magma. You might as well worry about an oil spill effects the ocean's currents.

Shattering rock is how the process words. Water has a hard time passing through solid rock, so the mining process initially injects cold water to form microscopic cracks in the rock for the water to flow through. In the Swiss project, the earthquakes occurred because they were injecting water into a fault, in effect lubricating things enough that the two sides of the fault line could side easier. This may be a show stopper for that project. In North America, we will probably want to avoid drilling along the Pacific Coast or anywhere near the Reelfoot Rift [wikipedia.org].

Lastly, Earth's magnetosphere is produced by its core, not the magma. And if "sucking the heat out" could cause volcanoes to "dry up", I think that most people would consider that an additional benefit, not a disadvantage.

Just one small problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20120137)

...where are to going to get water from in the middle of a desert???

Why is the core hot? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120339)

Is it some left-over effect from when the Earth was formed, and thus subject to forever growing colder? Or is it from some effect that will keep on replenishing the heat?

Also, does anything bad happen if we accelerate the cooling of the core?

Boyle's Law is why the core is hot. (2)

EWAdams (953502) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120421)

Small space, high pressure. The pressure is caused by gravity -- the weight of all the stone on top of it. (The same thing causes nuclear fusion in the Sun.) It's not going to go away unless we forget to pay the gravity bill.

Waste of time. (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120377)

Waste of time. You need to turn water into steam to drive a turbine at what efficiency? With a big enough Sterling engine, I can achieve Carnot efficiency (theoretical perfect heat engine, absolute best efficiency possible in a perfect no-loss universe is 50% heat->motion conversion). Of course, my Sterling engine will run from the heat of the open air versus the 10C of 10 meters down in the ground; but a bigger temperature difference means better efficiency overall (improve efficiency: Colder cold side OR larger hot-cold difference). Their steam engine will do lower efficiencies at a much higher temperature difference (you need a condenser, i.e. a cold side for the steam to vent to).

The short of it comes out to jamming a Sterling engine's hot side into something hot, cold side into something cold. This could mean using the engine itself to mechanically (i.e. no heat -> lateral -> torque -> electricity -> torque lossy conversion, just direct heat -> lateral -> torque) drive a pump to have a heat exchanger convey heat to the hot side of the Sterling, and another to power a cooling system to drive 10C (from the water table, several meters into the ground) to the cold side.

Want more power? Create an alloy with high thermoconductivity (i.e. it gets friggin' hot when you apply heat, unlike the heat shield on the shuttle) and a very high melting point, and use that for the heat exchanger, transport tubing (wrapped in heat shield style insulation!), pump, and Sterling engine body. Jam that into something even hotter (can it go into magma without melting?). And you'll want a bigger Sterling engine; remember the engine itself is the cooling system for the working fluid!

One possible effect (1)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120453)

Surely if the Earth's core is cooled too much due to excessive abstraction of geothermal energy, it will eventually solidify, shrink and start rattling around like an old walnut in its shell? And what if it bursts through? Come to think of it, even before that happens, there's a goodly-sized risk that the outer crust will be able to move independently with respect to the centre of mass, which will play merry havoc with the seasons.

Pretty crappy artical (1)

cdn-programmer (468978) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120461)

I'd say its a pretty crappy article.

The Ozzy company in question is Geodynamics and you can find their web site here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap//ap_on_sc/drilling_for_ heat;_ylt=AjvFzIDtqIn2aRl98jpXkE.s0NUE [yahoo.com]

Their website has a good description of the progress and the problems they have encountered. I looked at investing in the company a few years back. So this isn't even current news.

The _real_ problems have not yet surfaced. There are two (2) major issues.

1) The amount of water one needs to push through the rocks tends to be rather large before one can obtain a significant amount of energy. At a 1 gigawatt level we are talking close to a river's worth. Of course 1 gigawatt is a lot of power and a 1 gigawatt plant of any sort would be expected to cost over a billion.

2) Fracing is a big problem. When you frac a formation the cracks tend to follow the weak spots and not go where you want them to go. So GDY.AX has a few holes down but this is still all experimental and there is nothing at this point that says when they pump down water that it will find its way to the well from which they want to pump the water up. In fact they may need to drill a few more wells to find where the water goes.

I certainly hope their venture is successful. However at this point I am declining to become an investor.

Any in Slashdot who wish to are certainly welcome. At least now you know the company and the trading symbol and the exchange. No thanks to the article of course!

Worng URL. Firefox bug (1)

cdn-programmer (468978) | more than 6 years ago | (#20120519)

I clipped the correct one! Contents were from the worng page! Blame firefox. Blame me for not checking this before I posted the comment.

Geodynamics website can be found here: http://www.geodynamics.com.au/IRM/content/home.htm l [geodynamics.com.au]

One needs to look closely at the projected economics.

It said an investment of $800 million to $1 billion could produce more than 100 gigawatts of electricity by 2050, equaling the combined output of all 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S.

Bullshit!

A gigawatt power plant costs in the range of a billion regardless of the energy source. Does anyone think there is even the remotest of chances that geothermal can come in at 1/100th the cost of other energy sources and that no one would try to develop it? Why else would geothermal be experimental? Or are they suggesting that over 50 years a geothermal plant might produce as much power as 104 nuclear plants do in a year?

The most obvious conclusion is that comments like this are just stoopid and illustrate the ignorance of people.
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