By Mark Halper
Posting in Energy
The president is due to fly from Ireland to London on Tuesday. But a volcano in Iceland - the land of geothermal energy - once again threatens European air travel. Will he make the flight?
UK authorities are playing down the likelihood that a freshly erupting Icelandic volcano will shut down air travel. But could that be because there’s a passenger named Barack Obama who’s scheduled to fly from Ireland to London on Tuesday?
Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano erupted Saturday night. One UK airline, Scotalnd’s Loganair today announced it is cancelling flights on Tuesday because weather forecasts indicate that “a high density of ash will be present in large parts of Scottish airspace.”
Last year, an ash cloud from Iceland’s Mt. Eyjafjallajokull caused aviation authorities across Europe to shut down flights.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority is today not ruling out closing airspace again, but says that it is better prepared than it was last year. In a press release, its chief executive Andrew Haines notes, “Our number one priority is to ensure the safety of people both onboard aircraft and on the ground. We can’t rule out disruption, but the new arrangements that have been put in place since last year’s ash cloud mean the aviation sector is better prepared and will help to reduce any disruption in the event that volcanic ash affects UK airspace.”
And the BBC quotes foreign secretary William Hague saying, “I think we are far better prepared and we'll have far better information and intelligence which allows us to adjust things without necessarily the blanket bans on flights which we saw last year, but of course it depends on how the situation develops.”
Then again, Hague is expecting a rather important guest on Tuesday: President Obama.
This saga has added meaning for fans of renewable energy. Once again, the Icelandic eruption reminds us of the good side of volcanoes: the forces that power them are wrapped up in the game geological boiling, bubbling, rumbling and tumbling that helps generate geothermal electricity. In Iceland, geothermal power accounts for a growing 25 percent of the country’s electricity, which is 100 percent renewable- the balance comes from the hydro power of melting glaciers and rivers.
If the president is grounded, perhaps he can use the extra time on the Emerald Isle to reflect on the possibility that geothermal power could help feed the U.S grid. One MIT study estimates that the U.S. has enough geothermal potential to satisfy 2,000 times its energy needs.
UPDATE: A few hours after this story posted, news broke that President Obama is cutting short his stay in Ireland and flying to London on Monday night, to avoid a possible ash cloud. BA and KLM, like Loganair earlier, cancelled Tuesday passenger flights in Scotland. Maybe, just maybe, this will get the president thinking about harnessing geothermal power.
May 23, 2011
I thought that the airborne ash was a threat at higher altitudes. Obummer could have AF1 stay below that stuff for such a short hop.
Geothermal power has been hyped for over 80 years. The enthusiasts have always portended that endless free power is just around the corner. Reality is a little different. First, there are a limited number of locations that are good for geothermal. Real hot rock locations are areas where there is lava below ground. Think Yellowstone. Second, typical geothermal locations are also sulfur sources. I wonder if sulfuric acid is good for the turbines in a power plant? Typical geothermal plants have a short life for the equipment and piping. Third, removal of the geothermal energy means cooling the underlying rock. This appears to result in earthquakes in some locations. Except in limited areas like Hawaii and Iceland, I don't expect geothermal power to be a major source of electricity for at least a generation. There are just too many unsolved problems.
" Scotalnds (sic) Loganair today announced it is cancelling flights on Tuesday because weather forecasts indicate that a high density of ash will be present in large parts of Scottish airspace. " Just as well, seeing how a highly dense ass is present there misrepresenting Americans in Europe.
We will never ran out of geothermal energy so long as the oceans volcanoes keep spewing their wrath! Nevada has the largest streams of geothermal energy underground! Come live with us!