Geothermal power is one of the big untapped clean energy resources in the world. But taming the extreme conditions in deep wells is an enormous challenge.
An abundance of extreme heat energy, as much as 900ºC, is available in huge chambers of magma deep under the surface of the earth. The difficulty is to drill boreholes that deep.
Iceland has found a way to tap into these reservoirs, as much as 5 kms deep. The country is now dotted with geothermal power plants, and a single deep well could match the output of an entire plant, capable of providing energy to tens of thousands of homes.
Several other countries have now started following suit, e.g. in Cornwall (UK) and California.
If extreme geothermal energy takes off, we can expect more than just cheap electricity. Hot water can be piped directly to local businesses for industrial purposes, or to heat homes, offices and stadiums, or pavements and roads in winter, giant fish farms, and so on.
However, just as with any new technology (fracking, for example), the unintended consequences need to be studied and carefully managed. But whatever the downsides, many think geothermal energy is a big part of the solution to the looming global energy crisis.
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