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Google Releases Geothermal Potential Map of the US 401

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the cozy-warm-mantle dept.
a_hanso writes "The Google funded Enhanced Geothermal Systems research at the Southern Methodist University has produced a coast-to-coast geothermal potential map of the United States. Having invested over $10 million on geothermal energy, Google seems to believe that it is our best bet at kicking the oil habit (especially now that nuclear power has suddenly become disproportionately unpopular)."
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Google Releases Geothermal Potential Map of the US

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  • by suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @12:57PM (#37845854)

    1. What happens to the core when we start pumping large amounts of heat out of the core? How long until it cools enough for our magnetic field to collapse enough to be dangerous?

    Here's a fascinating thought experiment that might interest you: What is cold weather?

    It's so easy to say that cold weather is the movement of cold air, but that's wrong. "Cold" is not a force or some sort of negative energy that gets applied during winter. Cold is what happens when, if even for a moment, we stop getting enough sunlight to make up for the energy that's lost to space. Every single winter of every single year (and remember that summer on one hemisphere is winter on the other), huge swaths of the planet are losing energy to space. It's enough to bring the frost line of soil down several feet just in the northern US--I'd hate to think how deep it penetrates in Canada.

    There is no comparison of the surface area affected by severe winters to the surface area of geothermal wells, and as such, there is no comparing the energy loss between the two.

    And keep in mind, nobody's suggesting drilling into the mantle, let alone the core. That's known as a volcano. We don't really have materials to safely handle that sort of well. And the crust of the earth is so remarkably thin compared to the size of the mantle... well, I'm not sure we'll have to worry about it for millenia if not more.

  • by MikeyC01 (231948) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @01:00PM (#37845888) Homepage

    The chance that humans could impact such a large object in an way, is pretty slim.

    This argument sounds familiar for some reason ...

  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @01:02PM (#37845906)

    Wait, this question was serious? The heat from the mantle will eventually migrate upwards anyways. And turning it into electricity won't introduce more heat into our atmosphere than we already are from burning coal/ natural gas. Considerably less so, especially without any CO2 production.

    Geothermal can last a long, long time. Although I should point out that scharkalvin is wrong (about this one): Google's EGS plan doesn't use geothermal plumes like most geothermal power does, it just uses the Earth's natural heat at about 6.5km down (which occurs everywhere to various degrees.) Hence, the gradient map.

    Oh, and lest we forget, sun unleashes something like 1*10^17 joules of energy on the Earth per second. It would take an absolute shitload of geothermal stations, probably more than we could ever effectively build, to add any considerable amount to that.

  • by LoudMusic (199347) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @01:03PM (#37845928)

    Seriously. Electricity to residential users should be free (up to a consumption level).

    Earlier this year my wife and I visited Grand Coulee Dam [wikipedia.org]. It produces nearly 7GW and costs them rather little in maintenance to operate.

    This weekend we drove through the windmills in eastern Washington [rdaltonphotos.biz] and Oregon. They sit there and turn generating more power than can be transmitted [oregonlive.com], costing little in maintenance to operate.

    And now Google is encouraging ramping up geothermal (which looks like good stuff for Oregon!), and again requires little cost in maintenance.

    Electricity is electricity. The expectation is that when I plug something into an outlet in my house I will get 110v. With the exception of inadequate supply, electricity in any home in the United States should be identical. No one advertises that their electricity is better, so there is no competition in 'who builds a better product'. Is this something the government should take control of, create jobs to build more clean energy production, end-of-life fuel burning generators, and turn electricity into a 'free service'? Residential use up to a certain usage could be free, while overages would incur modest fees. Commercial locations would continue to pay same or even reduced rates to help maintain the facilities. Theoretically this could encourage the move to electricity in other areas currently using other fuel sources, like automobiles. Electric cars are cheaper to operate now, but what if it was FREE?

    Seems like something to think about.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @01:22PM (#37846168) Homepage

    FTFS:

    (especially now that nuclear power has suddenly become disproportionately unpopular)

    There are lots of problems with this phrase:
    1. "especially now" and "suddenly" imply that opposition to nuclear power is something new, rather than something that's had at least rumblings about for over 50 years.
    2. "disproportionately" doesn't describe what you're comparing it to. I'm guessing it's the cost of nuclear power, factoring in the average cost per KwH, the incidence of accidents, and the average cost per accident, but that's little more than a guess.

    So that little editorial comment seems to read:
    "Nuclear power is safe and fantastic, but those environmentalist nutjobs have suddenly convinced everybody to hate it for no good reason."

    The more reasonable comment, if you were going to make any general statement at all, would be something like:
    "Nuclear power seems to be mostly safe, but environmentalists have convinced many people that it's a bad idea because of a few notable accidents."

    Or, you know, you could just leave that out entirely. Knowing where geothermal energy could be a viable source is worth doing regardless of what happens to nuclear power plants.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @01:23PM (#37846196)

    Seriously. Electricity to residential users should be free (up to a consumption level)... this could encourage the move to electricity in other areas currently using other fuel sources, like automobiles. Electric cars are cheaper to operate now, but what if it was FREE?

    Seems like something to think about.

    I live in Florida. I just spent $9K on a new AC unit because the old one was slightly under-powered and massively inefficient. Our summertime electric bills dropped from $350/month to under $100 a month. If electricity were free, where's my incentive to not just buy a (massively inefficient) $500 wall unit A/C to band-aid my 20 year old central A/C and limp it along for another 10 or 15 years, boosting my electricity consumption by a factor of 3x? (Northern Florida, it does get cold occasionally, during particularly cold months the old unit would cost $500+ running in heat-pump mode, the new one less than $200 and keeps the house warmer too...) Also, I upgraded the attic insulation from R-19 to R-38 (partly responsible for the system efficiency) - would have been far cheaper to get an extra ton of capacity in the unit instead of paying the labor for insulation installation....

    If I could charge an electric car for FREE, I'd already have a hybrid converted for plug-in charging... but since my electricity comes from a coal fired plant down the road, that wouldn't even be good for the local environment.

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