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The demand for sustainable energy is higher than ever. According to a study by BP, global energy consumption has seen a 5.3% increase within the last year, the largest jump since 1973. Our digital lifestyles have contributed to the rise in energy consumption -- it takes 35 times more energy to produce a pound of smartphone than to make a pound of book. While strides have been made to increase the output of solar panels and biofuels, some cities are turning to the energy found beneath their feet.
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Geothermal energy relies on the near-constant heat source running underneath the earth’s crust, which can be converted into different forms of power. By tapping into the crusts natural fissures, heat from deep underground -- in the form of hot water and steam -- can be channeled as a low-cost and renewable energy source. While geothermal sites theoretically can transmit energy to far away places, current technology benefits cities along continental plate boundaries or where hot springs are present.
Five cities stand out in their use of geothermal technology, and they represent the wave of the future as we tap into the power the earth naturally produces. Check out their breakthroughs below.
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1. Boise, Idaho
With geothermal technology present in the city since the early 1800s, the City of Boise relies on water hotter than 170 degrees to run the largest direct use system in the United States. Boise Public Utility manages four independent geothermal heating districts, which provide sustainable heat to more than 55 businesses in the city’s downtown area. The cost savings of the system -- which also provides heat for greenhouses and hot water for recreation -- is enough to heat 500,000 square feet of buildings per year. Other privately managed of geothermal technologies heat everything from the state’s capitol building to private residences.
The success of the program has inspired a concerted effort to expand geothermal heating across the river, to Boise State University. Construction for the project began in October, with plans to geothermally heat nine buildings on BSU’s campus by spring 2012. Once the project is finished, Boise’s geothermal technology will heat nearly 4.5 million square feet across the city.
“Our geothermal system is a clean and affordable source of energy,” Mayor David Bieter said in a press release regarding the expansion. “Boise is fortunate to have this natural asset; it’s our duty to maximize its effectiveness by extending its reach as far as possible.”
2. Reno, Nevada
Nevada is ranked number one in the nation when it comes to installed geothermal energy capacity on a per person basis, and it has the largest amount of untapped geothermal resources in the United States. "The Biggest Little City in the World” benefits greatly from the energy-efficient power. The system provides competitive electricity for the city’s 220,500 residents.
The City of Reno boasts a whopping 100 watts of power, enough to supply the entire residential load of the city, permitted and produced within the city limits. Publicly traded company Ormat Technologies manages the bulk of Reno’s geothermal baseload through an electricity system at its multi-plant complex. In August, the company also produced its first evaporative cooling system, which allows for even more power production once the temperature in the High Desert climbs.
However, electricity is not the only resource geothermal energy provides the city. Small heating districts around the area run on sustainable geothermal power, similar to the situation in Boise. Also, some of the city’s casinos, including the Peppermill Resort, have turned to geothermal energy to power their hot water and mechanical heat.
3. Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s volcanoes have become legendary at this point, but all of that geological activity translates into clean power. Nearly 90% of Iceland’s houses and buildings are heated by the natural hot water from below the earth. In fact, geothermal energy is so prevalent that even the parking lots have heated floors to dissipate snow during the colder months.
Geothermal energy is one of the biggest factors in Reykjavik’s honorable title of being the greenest city in the world. Almost half the country’s population lives in the capital city, and its literal translation of “Smoky Bay” highlights just how much untapped power lay under the city’s crust. After 70 years of use, geothermal power is utilized for just about anything in the city, and it's considered the savior that will pull the embattled country out of its crippling recession by not only providing cheap energy, but also by serving as a consulting model for other countries developing their own geothermal systems.
4. Masdar City, UAE
In one of the most oil-rich countries on earth, a city is aiming to utilize geothermal energy as a sustainable alternative. Masdar City, located within Abu Dhabi, has partnered with Reykjavik Geothermal to produce a working geothermal process to provide the city with heat and electricity. However, Masdar City doesn’t benefit from nearby hot springs like the other cities with working systems; it uses a new process called Enhanced Geothermal Technology. Instead of relying on an endless supply of hot spring water, Enhanced Geothermal Technology creates fissures in the ground and pumps water into them. The result is efficiently heated water that works within a closed-loop system to create electricity and heat.
While initial testing of the city’s geothermal potential by Reykjavik Geothermal didn’t produce hot enough water for efficient electricity conversion, there’s been a continued effort to finally break through to create a functioning Enhanced Geothermal system.
“Initial results are promising and confirm Masdar City’s ability to address a significant portion of the base cooling load of the city’s first phase using absorption chillers continuously supplied with geothermal heat,” says Masdar City’s Future Build Committee in a press release. “The main focus initially is expected to be thermal cooling and, possibly, central provision of hot water for showers and sinks.”
5. Perth, Australia
According to geothermal energy consultant company Hot Dry Rocks and Google, Australia has a world of powerful potential underneath the surface. Just 2% of the country’s resources could generate 10 times more electricity than its total coal and gas electricity production today.
The secret to all the heat is the granite layer underneath the entirety of the country, which manages to heat up to perfect geothermal temperature of more than 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Australia’s deep-end onshore well, aptly named Habanero, is testing the potential of hot granite use for geothermal energy in Cooper Basin near Perth. A second well is also expected to be installed within the next year, making a complete geothermal circuit to test energy output. If it is successful, Perth will have access to electricity via a direct use system at a fraction of current alternative energy costs.
Does your city use geothermal energy? Let us know in the comments below.
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This story originally published on Mashable here.
- Geothermal energy