Monday, February 11, 2013

Renewable Energy for Greener Buildings

Geothermal plant at the Blue Lagoon

Geothermal: The Sleeping Energy Giant

Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) are the ideal solution for solving the climate/energy crisis.  The main difference between this renewable energy and wind/solar is that it can scale efficiently with a small base footprint and can satisfy base load on the energy grid.  This is the 20% of peak energy (electric) demand that is currently satisfied by coal.  Geothermal is a 24/7 energy solution that is clean and scalable.

Geothermal systems have been around since the 1800s and development of these systems has been suppressed by big oil and other fossil fuel backed organizations.  Part of this has always had to do with the fact that geothermal systems create energy.  Fossil fuels are energy stores and can cheaply acquired out of the ground a transported.  Geothermal requires an electric grid and hence was never considered as a transportation fuel.  Geothermal missed out on the industrial revolution because it never could be deployed for transportation.  We never mastered implementing it and instead relied on the black stuff.  With advances in electric storage systems (super capacitors/batteries/hydrogen generation) that is no longer an issue.  Geothermal is limitless, we can afford to be even wasteful because it has zero carbon emissions.

The difference between  traditional geothermal systems employed in Scandinavian countries and new enhanced systems of the kind used in Nevada comes down to water irrigation.  Either the water is naturally available close to the bedrock (Yellowstone) or we need to pump the water down towards the hot rock.  EGS (enhanced geothermal systems) can be located on the coasts or irrigated from rivers or the Great Lakes.  Water is efficiently used in a closed loop system.  Geothermal plants on the coast can also pull double duty as desalinization plants.  Geothermal offers clean, limitless energy and is already proven.  Furthermore, it does not require expensive manufacturing that contributes to greenhouse gases (steel manufacturing) like wind turbines.  Couple that with its small footprint and you have an ideal solution that has been tested for hundreds of years.

Why is Geothermal Being Suppressed

The Bush Administration has put “zero” dollars into geothermal research.  The venture capital community put only a few million.  Why? Everyone has a horse in the energy race and no one wants the “Big Brown” of energy to participate.  Geothermal plants are relatively inexpensive to build and provide limitless energy which is determined by square acres instead of miles (like wind turbines in the Pickens plan). They are capable of supplying huge amounts of energy, which can be used for building and designing LEED certified buildings, or greeen buildings. This opens the door for commissioning services to come in and optimize buildings for our future. We need a solution now and we have to look past greed.   Even clean energy advocates like T. Boone Pickens are misguided by greed.  We need a workable solution now.

The Solution: Let Today’s U.S. Energy companies become tomorrow’s

The U.S. oil and gas industries made record profits in the tens of billions and are the only companies in the U.S. that can afford the cash outlay to build irrigated geothermal plants, that can solve the crisis today instead of tomorrow.  Mandate them to do so, let them protect their profits and business model and move on to the next issue like health care.

Let me be clear, President Obama, you can solve the energy crisis with a swipe of the pen if you mandate U.S. energy companies to switch over to geothermal.  The government can set aside research money to build enhance plant designs, but you must also mandate immediate build out of plants based on existing designs that are already being deployed in Nevada.

Both coal and oil companies in particular have the know how to find and dig holes in the ground (the most complicated part of geothermal).  Let them do it.  Solar/wind at the hyper local level, on rooftops and cars makes a lot of sense, but we need to protect our open spaces.  Carpeting the land with solar panels and wind turbines when billions of years of magnetic, solar, and thermal  energy is right below our feet is silly and irresponsible.

There is a basic lesson that any kid knows. Your basement is always warmer than outside…  The solution to the climate/energy crisis is right below our feet. Your green jobs are here. It will take a lot of “traditional” labor to put these plants online. It will also take researchers to increase efficiency and lower the footprint of designs. Geothermal will also jump start the viable engine of the hydrogen/natural gas/liquefied coal economy, viable transportation fuels.  Eventually we will be able to switch completely over to hydrogen. Today’s energy companies will eventually become plant operators and hydrogen distributors. Large companies like airlines, might eventually operate their own geothermal plants for the sole production of hydrogen for transportation around the clock.

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