The earth is warm near Mount Meager, part of the Coast Mountains north of Vancouver, Canada. Situated within the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt, it is one of the most volcanically active parts in Canada. Water from the Meager Creek, which flows into the Lillooet River, seeps into the fissures created by the unstable earth and resurfaces as hot springs. The Meager Creek hot springs were revered by the indigenous First Nation people and are now a popular recreation spot.
Heat from the molten earth beneath the surface which created the hot springs at Meager Creek may become a source of renewable energy in the future. The high temperature geothermal resources or magma chambers under Mount Meager can power heat engines to produce electricity. If a pilot project now underway is successful, a 100 megawatt geothermal plant will come up at the site.
Electricity from geothermal sources is highly cost-competitive and very environmentally friendly as no fuel is used for generation and there are no emissions. Unlike other renewable energy sources like wind or solar, geothermal plants are not dependent on weather conditions.
Though Canada has significant geothermal potential, the country has a long way to go before it can catch up with others. The U.S. is the global leader in geothermal energy with a total generation capacity of over 2,000 megawatts. This includes the Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal field in California which runs on natural steam generated by very hot underground rock formations. To ensure their sustainability, the steam reservoirs at the Geysers are now recharged with treated sewage effluent. The Philippines, which generates more than 17% of its total electricity from geothermal sources, is a close second, followed by Mexico.
The Earth’s warmth can also be directly tapped to heat or cool homes and commercial buildings. Ground-source heat pumps, which absorb heat from the ground to warm homes in winter and transfer excess heat back to the ground in summer, are now used extensively in the U.S., Canada, and many European countries. These quiet heat pumps can be twice as energy efficient as conventional heating or cooling systems and, as equipment costs have steadily declined, have become more cost-effective.
Enhanced Geothermal Systems, or EGS which are under development, may make it possible to set up geothermal plants at any location. Unlike traditional geothermal plants which use natural steam, EGS generates steam by pumping water into holes drilled to reach hot rock formations deep inside the Earth. If this technology is successful, it will open up a vast clean energy source right beneath our feet.
Earth energy, as geothermal energy is often called, holds a lot of promise as a renewable, non-polluting source of energy for the future. Still in its infancy, this green energy alternative could contribute significantly to reducing the world’s dependence on costly fossil fuels.
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