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Energy Dept: Geothermal Power Has “Enormous Untapped Potential”

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A new report by the U.S. Department of Energy identifies geothermal energy — in which heat from beneath the Earth’s surface is used to generate electricity — as an underdeveloped source of power.

The report, titled GeoVision, found that there’s “enormous untapped potential for geothermal” electricity. It outlines how America’s geothermal energy production could increase 26 times over current rates by the year 2050, showing that solar panels and wind turbines aren’t the only tools at our disposal as we move away from burning fossil fuels.

Not that simple

Geothermal energy has had a rough time in the U.S., where plants face both technological and regulatory limitations, according to Ars Technica. For the most part, it’s limited to areas with hot springs and other obvious sources of subterranean heat.

But the report identifies how streamlining the regulatory process, especially how long it takes for a facility to get all of the necessary permits, could double American geothermal production all on its own.

Better get started

By upgrading the technology at new and existing plants, the Department of Energy found that setting up a new facility could become much more cost-effective.

If the nation invests in that tech, geothermal plants could produce 60 gigawatts of energy by 2050 — 26 times their current output — and provide about 8.5 per cent of the country’s electricity demand.

Target Yellowstone

The national park could power the entire continental U.S. with clean energy.

While scientists agree that Yellowstone is not likely to erupt anytime soon, if and when it does, the event would be catastrophic. It would blanket most of the continental United States in debris and potentially plunge Earth into a volcanic winter.

So in 2017, NASA scientists ran a thought experiment to see if they might be able to halt a future supereruption. The internal study led by Brian Wilcox, an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, suggested drilling a series of wells around the perimeter of the park and pumping cold water down into the hot rock. The hypothetical solution would cool down Yellowstone’s magma chamber and prevent calamity.

As a bonus, the system would be able to extract five gigawatts of electricity, making it one of the largest power plants in the world. Outside experts agree that Yellowstone hosts enough geothermal energy to power the entire country.

The idea, however, has reached a standstill. Yellowstone and other national parks have long been protected from commercial energy development to ensure that these regions remain pristine.

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