Geothermal energy’s future is expected to grow rapidly as more and more people turn away from, or outright eliminate fossil fuels. This will be good for the environment, the renewables industry, and the consumer, as well as investors.
Geothermal energy, like other renewables, is clean and sustainable, while unlike wind and solar that requires storage batteries, geothermal energy is available as both a source of electrical power and heat 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Originating from the earth’s core and from the decay of naturally occurring isotopes such as those of uranium, thorium, and potassium, the heat energy in the uppermost six miles of the planet’s crust is vast—50,000 times greater than the energy content of all oil and natural gas resources. Chile, Peru, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Russia, China, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and other countries along the Ring of Fire (an area of high volcanic activity encircling the basin of the Pacific Ocean) are rich in geothermal energy. Another geothermal hot spot is the Great Rift Valley of Africa, which includes such countries as Kenya and Ethiopia. Worldwide, 39 countries with a cumulative population of over 750 million people have geothermal resources sufficient to meet all their electricity needs.
In Europe, the top countries in geothermal energy development are Italy with 944 megawatts and Iceland with 710 megawatts. Italy is expected to nearly double its installed capacity by 2020. Iceland, with 27 percent of its electricity needs met by harnessing the earth’s heat, is number one in the world in the share of its electricity generated from geothermal energy.
Canada has high-quality geothermal resources, yet while geothermal energy has been in use around the world for the last century, Canada has not done much to develop theirs. And with rising carbon taxes affecting everything from the cost of food to electricity, heating and more, geothermal energy is looking better all the time. Canada has the opportunity to become a world leader in geothermal energy production as well as helping the international community in sharing the technologies and innovations that have been developed.
The CanGea association estimates Canada alone could generate 5,000 megawatts of geothermal generated electricity by tapping into already mapped heat sources of Earth energy.
Despite development potential measured in the hundreds of thousands of megawatts, tapping this renewable source of power is still in its infancy. But as more and more national leaders begin to see renewable energy as a cost-effective, low-carbon alternative to price-volatile, carbon-intensive fossil fuels, geothermal power generation is expected to move rapidly from marginal to mainstream.
A study led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates that an investment of roughly $1 billion in geothermal research and development over 15 years (roughly the cost of a single new coal-fired power plant) could lead to commercial deployment of 100,000 megawatts by 2050.
Canada’s geothermal energy resources
The potential of geothermal development in Canada is huge in terms of moderate, low and high temperature for direct use (heating) and indirect use (electricity) energy. The development of an enhanced geothermal system (EGS) allows for the possibility of developing the geothermal sector by creating reservoirs in environments that do not naturally have all of the elements required for conventional hydrothermal geothermal energy (heat, fluid, and a permeable geological environment) and of leveraging the enormous amount of thermal energy stored in the subsurface for electricity production. A majority of Canada’s land contains hot rocks located several thousand meters deep, and deep geothermal energy stimulated by hydraulic fracturing has the potential to become an important matrix of energy supply. Although current technology would provide access to geothermal energy potential, the exploitation of the resource has not yet been demonstrated to be profitable and research is necessary in order to identify the most suitable sites, to create and manage reservoirs, and to optimize the conversion of heat into electricity. In the past, special attention was paid to the potential of Western Canada, but geothermal resources are not limited only to Northern and Western of Canada.
Low-Temperature and co-produced resources represent a small but growing sector of hydrothermal development in geothermal resources below 150°C (300°F). With emerging low-temperature technologies, thousands of megawatts of this form of resources could be developed in other parts of the country. These technologies are bringing valuable returns on investment in the near-term, using unique power production methods.
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