Posting in Energy
The real answer to getting the most from the West's geothermal abundance is to make that energy portable somehow. The two best-known ways of doing that are to turn it into hydrogen or ammonia, but that takes water, and the West is water-poor.
Those of us in the East marvel at the ambitions of California and other western states, when it comes to alternative energy.
Do they care more or do they have a secret weapon?
They have a secret weapon.
The Department of Energy produced this chart, for kids, showing just what it is. It shows the amount of easily-available geothermal energy across the U.S.
In this case red is good, green is bad. The red on the map is in the West, especially Nevada, Oregon, Idaho and Arizona. The worst places for this energy are in the Southeast, including my hometown of Atlanta.
Getting that energy out is pretty simple once you find it.
In a typical dry steam plant a well pumps water deep underground. Hotter water comes up through a nearby production well. The two wells are recycling the same water. The production well runs its hot water through a turbine, which in turn powers a generator.
There are only about 50 public geothermal plants right now, with 90% of the energy coming from California. In addition many individual businesses are building their own plants. A Reno gambling hall just agreed to build its own $8 million power plant. Other local businesses are also looking to this investment.
Thanks to geothermal energy California can be very aggressive in its estimates of renewable energy growth, and all the western states have a substantial economic advantage.
The question is what can they do with it.
It costs a lot of money to transport energy. In a power line you lose a lot of it to friction, and there are environmental costs that some environmentalists find unbearable.
So the real answer to getting the most from the West's geothermal abundance is to make that energy portable somehow. The two best-known ways of doing that are to turn it into hydrogen or ammonia, but the former takes water, and the West is water-poor.
But if you can answer that question, what we think of as Texas is moving north and west.
Sep 25, 2009
Around 1990, I built and installed the data-gathering instrumentation for a geothermal research project in upstate NY. The idea was to use heat pumps to extract geothermal energy to heat a fire station with radiant-slab heat and thermal storage. The thermal storage was used so the heating system could run only at night using off-peak electricity to run the heat pumps. Great idea. The temperature in the building was steady and comfortable all of the time, and the system performed flawlessly. Unfortunately, after just a couple of years, the system had succeeded in creating a 2-acre block of subterranean permafrost to a depth of over 100 feet. Too much cold, not enough geothermal energy. Whatever happened to low-head hydroelectric power stations? There were many built during the REA days, and many have fallen into disuse. The potential is still there, and there's no pollution - the stream is going to flow anyhow.
People that I used to know who lived in The Geysers area of northern California, where PG&E has at least one geothermal plant, always complained about the loud, shrill noises emitted almost continuously from the plant(s) while they were operating. Apparently, sometimes the system has to "let off some steam" but there wasn't a way to do it quietly. The noise disturbed not only people in the area but also pets, livestock and wildlife. No one ever wanted to buy a home near the plant(s) if they heard the noise emitted during operation, and some people lost money because of that.
good point i had forgotten about the heat issue when its at full flow. mind you i read somewhere about the idea of running a pair of cables from one seaboard to another which would provide enough energy to power a small industrial complex due to potential difference, i suspect that something of this ilk could be used with subteranean cables provided it's actually viable (probably not lol) and this would effectivly negate the problems of transmission losses although i suspect it would still incur some form of rental costs for the route taken (here in the uk the energy companies dont pay for the underground cables since they generally run them along public highways (easy to access and its no charge to them for using public property) although i suspect it has also something to do with the ground getting sterilised not mattering as well. maybe they could do something similar in the states, added to which the heat generated might have an effect on keeping the roads clear of snow/ice in the cold months (i guess they would need to mess about with depths of cable for this to occure though.
Ronangel has a good point on DC transmission. The problem come from cost to convert and the states where the line runs. DC converter stations are very expensive ($10-15 million) so the only cost-justification is distance (AC total cost vs DC total cost). And all those states and counties want some benefit from the long-haul transmission lines crossing their land. The utilities appease them by putting in substations along the line so some of the power can be used in their area. DC lines in the US (9 or 10 now) typically run over 500 miles and there are no AC lines over 500 miles that don't have interim substations. At present there are 4 or 5 new DC lines proposed to run power from the wind farms in Wyoming & Colorado to population centers. Putting lines over 230kV underground is still unfeasible, not only from cost but also from the technical standpoint. Those voltages create very high temperature which must be dissipated or the ground will be sterilized. Now, if anyone has a new method of addressing these concerns, let us know since high-voltage transmission engineers have been designing lines for almost 100 years and no one has ever found a solution. These guys ain't dummies nor anti-SmartPlanet.
There is even a more energy efficient method of transferring electrical power over long distances which at present is being tried in the middle east for converted solar energy. High voltage DC (direct current) although more complicated to convert at each end the savings appear to be higher as overall efficiency of the system is far greater,over long distance.
well that sounds all well and good but i believe the point is not is there enough water ready for the process but more the cost of processing the sea water into something pure enough to use, desalination alone takes up an enormous amount of resources after which the waste product needs to go somewhere (back into the sea is out of the question and its not useful for too many other applications) they would be far better off changing the current transmission system, if they simply elected to up the voltage but drop the current on the power lines it would suffer far less in terms of losses, colder weather would of course help with this since you get lower losses the lower the temperature is. Much better idea than trying to convert it into something else is to change it from 118kva up to 420kva and move the power lines underground wherever possible , then build substations in areas to convert the higher voltage down to that which is normally used, its the same principle used by most of the worlds energy companies, in order to drop the cost of transmission they simply make the volts higher and the amps lower for the long runs from generation point to consumption point and then convert it back down to domestic level. Sure changing the cables of the national/state supply grid might be costly but in the long run the cost of converting from power pylons to subterranean cables will be saved 10 times over by the drop in transmission losses. I applaud the geothermal concept but i deplore the morons trying to think of how to move the generated energy from point a to b for their single mindedness on the point of how little they are willing to spend to make it viable. Let some common sense take over for once and do something that isn?t purely driven by how much can be saved per quarter in running cost?s.
As far a water goes California has a virtually unlimited supply. The pacific ocean and when you convert it to steam and it condensed back to liquid it is now free of salt and can be used to irrigate drink bath etc.