Saturday, March 07, 2009

Geothermal energy production costs on par with that of Coal

A new study suggests that the energy production costs coming from geothermal sources is now on par, and perhaps even cheaper, than the costs associated with energy coming from coal burning plants. This is important in this day and age of multiple billions of dollars from the stimulus package being destined for alternative energy sources. A summary can be found at Scientific American online.

Power production through turbines and generators is based on running pressurized steam through the turbine, which in turns spins loops of wire inside a magnetic field, thus inducing alternating voltage and currents. This is then brought into your town or city through the power grid. I don't think there is any doubt from any groups associated with the energy sector of the economy that the power grid needs serious work, and that there is a need for the U.S. to expand its energy portfolio. But how to go about reforming the energy sector is under intense debate from competing industries and other stakeholders. I am glad to not hear the "drill, baby, drill"groups on TV every evening, because that is not the answer long term. A well-balanced portfolio is necessary, and the dominant source of power will likely be based on local abundances of fuel or energy source. The south and southwest will likely have, in the next couple decades, a much higher percentage of its power coming from solar technologies relative to the north, and the north will likely have higher percentages of its portfolio using nuclear or wind. Certain areas of the country will make use of local geothermal or hydroelectric resources, and some may still rely more on fossil fuels.

One idea I would like to see researched is tidal power and the use of ocean currents to power generators. At some point, when drinking water becomes one of the major issues for certain portions of the U.S. and other countries, that same tidal or oceanic power is used by desalination plants along coastlines. This would certainly be cheaper than extending the power grid out into the oceans. It is an upsetting time for many as they consider the large increases in energy on a global scale, as China and India continue their march to becoming industrial and economic giants, but at the same time there is such an amazing opportunity to expand energy sources and see what some creative thinking will develop in the next 10-20 years. I do think Pres. Obama got it right to include some financial resources for new energy development in the stimulus bill, because in time the energy sector should be a major creator of good, technical jobs in the U.S. This all ties into national security and economic development, as well as manufacturing revival of some factories that will be needed to build the massive amounts of new infrastructure that the U.S. and most of the rest of the world will require as energy production expansion continues at rapidly increasing rates that match population increases globally. It is also a necessary step in protecting the environment and addressing global climate change. A good portion of the U.S. and global economies will, in fact, be 'energy economies' as we hear the president say so often.

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