of Nevada’s cities — lighting up the desert landscape with neon lights,
all-you-can-eat buffets and noisy slot machines — makes most environmentalists
cringe. It’s not just aesthetic: These gambling hubs are seen as gluttonous
resource gulpers. One of them, however, is gaining praise for its production of
The city of
Reno, north of Las Vegas, is a "hotspot" for geothermal power
production. Geothermal plants now provide enough electricity to serve all
200,000 residents. And energy analysts say Reno's success barely scratches the
surface: Projects slated for the West could nearly double the nation’s
geothermal generating capacity in the next few years, according to a new survey
from the Geothermal Energy Association.
sources now generate nearly 3,000 megawatts per year in the U.S. — more than
any other nation, but still only 0.4 percent of total energy use, roughly
equivalent to two large coal-fired power plants. The investment risk is still
too high for a commercial-scale geothermal industry to flourish, according to
Jefferson Tester of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the projects
take years of planning and construction and don’t get the large government
subsidies that other energy producers do. But adequate federal funding for
research and development would smooth out operational kinks, slash the risk and
give investors more confidence, he says.
the resources are there, it’s just a matter of developing them,” says Karl
Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association. “The solution
isn't black-and-white, and we have a long way to go, but we have all the pieces
— they just have to be put together.”
The West is
prime for geothermal development because its underground reservoirs of steam,
hot water and hot rocks tend to lie close to the surface, especially in places
like the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Mountains and Southern California's
Imperial Valley. Half of all geothermal energy production in the nation is in
the West, and 90 per cent of the identified geothermal resources are on Western
infancy, geothermal electricity production required extremely hot water, over
360 degrees Fahrenheit (182 Celsius). New technology, however, allows the use
of water as cool as 165 degrees (74 Celsius), greatly expanding opportunities
for power production. Geothermal energy can also be tapped directly as a
places, geothermal heating districts have been established; one such system
uses hot water pipes to heat 37 buildings in San Bernardino, California.
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