Why Geothermal Energy Might Win The Renewable Energy Game

The Big Promise Of Geothermal Energy | Unlimited, Free & Forever

Taken at face value, geothermal offers a glorious promise.

Our Earth’s core can be understood as one big, oversized nuclear reactor. The quantifiably excessive amount of heat generated from our planets core is one of the key geological features that makes our Earth habitable.

Such is the bounty of the Earth’s core that it is estimated to continue for as much as 91,000,000,000 years… and for our purposes, that’s a functionally infinite amount of time.

Wonderful news! And here within is the promise of geothermal.

Can we access the infinite amounts of electricity-generating heat deep below our feet?

Or does it sound a little bit too good to be true?

The Promise Of Geothermal

Although yes, in theory, tapping this heat is a fool’s errand, in practicality we come up against some very real, but nonetheless solvable limitations of engineering.

Much of the Earth’s subsurface is quartz in some form or another and as such, just 15-20km under our feet lays bountiful shelves of this beautifully rich, abundant and hot (500C+) quartz.

The Idea Of Geothermal Is As Follows

We take a shelf of quartz, positioned 5-20km beneath our feet.

Robert Friedland has speculated about a giant slab under Mexico, for example.

We position ourselves above this rich, oozing quartz which has existed for a geological lifetime at a temperate 300°C, mas o menos. We tunnel down and across into the rock (a slight pickle of engineering), blast water into the drilled away quartz and as consequence produce an abundance of clean, green and very mean steam.

Steam… that’s all we need… because burning coal, rotating a wind turbine, capturing the tremendous power of Niagara Falls – all these processes just work to create friction in a revolving drum. That friction creates electricity.

It is really first principles stuff. How can one most efficiently heat a furnace? That is the question the energy problem boils down to.

And as such, our giant quartz reserves are being (for all intents and purposes) eternally heated by our Earth’s nutritious core.

This means that no matter how much steam we extract from the rock on one day, she will be back to work tomorrow, fully charged… and ready to go again.

The Geothermal Promise

And thus, this is the geothermal promise.

More energy than we need. At no cost to the environment. And even less to our wallets.

I agree – yes – it’s a little bit grandiose isn’t it… and also perhaps too good to be true?

Quaise Energy promise to potentially deliver on this exact proposition. Baseload are generating tremendous awareness, capital and thrust in Sweden, Eavor have just been granted permission at 15km exploration in Germany.

There are things happening…

Geothermal & Climate Change From First Principles

As we heat coal, we release an incredibly dense storage of carbon into our atmosphere. As we combust oil in an engine, we again, release nutritiously dense carbon into the atmosphere.

As battery tech continues along the lines of linear progression towards ever greater and more efficient transferences of energy, the only energy we are going to need to worry about (at scale) is electricity production.

If geothermal can take care of our electrical needs. Then we will be able to do away with the majority of carbon-dense (coal, oil, gas) that is currently converted from solid to gas at scale.

As I have documented at length, food and agriculture are alongside transport as the world’s most egregious emitters of CO2. But should we be able to produce geothermal electricity to usurp all other uses apart from food and agriculture – then we would also change the food game as well.

Good For Tesla, Good For Batteries, Good For Mother Earth

One of the defining dilemmas facing Tesla and all other EV or battery businesses alike is the cost efficiency of their products.

What good is this green tech if no one can afford it? A very reasonable question. But more importantly, what good is green tech if the shiny veneer doesn’t sustains our environment. Depending on certain variables, you could well be driving around a battery-powered chassis of environmental degradation. Not the slick rick steed bolstering your social capital.

Much of the electricity generated for your Tesla might either come from the other end of a coal plant or even worse, from the environmental decimation of a copper mine. Sure, once you are driving around on the road, recharging from your Tesla sunroof things are hunky-dory. You can feel good about yourself and the impact you are having on the environment.

But if you are plugging your Tesla into the wall every night, and drawing electricity from the coal-generated plant down the road then you are about as clean as the Catholic Church.

Geothermal has the power to disrupt it all. Create genuinely clean electricity, which as I am sure you can imagine, has the power to fundamentally shift entire industries. From mining to agriculture, to the rest.

A Sceptical Response To The Geothermal Promise

There is too much hype, too many promises, and not enough ‘buts’ when it comes to geothermal.

The promise is overwhelmingly positive and optimistic. I am intensely optimistic… but also sceptical. Geothermal strikes me as one of those ideas that is just a little bit too good to be true.

So can we consider the following…

  • What threats do we pose to the environment by cracking and drilling through rock, which is by its very definition foundational?
  • Where is the talk about the ‘other gases‘ that will rise with the steam to heat our furnace? We have seen through fracking more than our fair share of unintended chemical leakages and cracked gas deposits. As we drill deeper and deeper into the planet I am reminded of Carl Jung in an entirely different context… ‘beware of the deep’ or even Gandalf foreshadowing the depths ever more ominously… ‘far, far below the deepest delving of the dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things’.

In my estimation, these two questions of scepticism are the most important and most prescient of mind.

Sure there are smaller details concerning the geopolitics of this huuugely transformational technology, but those are really the details of any global shift, and not in themselves a reason to not do something.

There are similar concerns surrounding the displacement of jobs and work in industries a geothermal revolution would replace, but again, not in itself a reason to not do something.

Environmental Threats?

I want to hear more from the geologists.

What are the implications for drilling down deeper than we have ever drilled before? Can one piece of quartz be endlessly tapped? From our best estimation of the second, third and fourth-order effects, what does releasing this energy mean for our core?

Questions along these lines are where my sceptical gaze is fixed.

Where We Are Now | Geothermal Energy

We are currently still in the innovative phase of this technology.

We cannot drill into 300°C for the distances required. The drills we have for oil mining are otherworldly and in themselves incredible feats of engineering, but for our geothermal purposes. Not good enough.

This is the great pursuit as things stand. There are companies out there like ipulse, who are pioneering the drilling technology, but it is absolutely without doubt that once things start to heat up, they will quickly come to a boil.

This could be the defining technology of our species. I know… quite hyperbolic to assert, but nonetheless, there is an element of truth to it.

Boundless, cheap energy. It is the stuff of the garden of Eden. There is not a predictive worldview that can measure how the world would change should the geothermal promise deliver.

It is the most exciting sunrise we have to look forward to. It has all the potential to transform the world.

Will it? Only time will tell.

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