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Sci Tech

What Are the Energy Alternatives? (Pt. 2 of Series)

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"Because of this lack of  support,  EGS  technology  development  and  demonstration  recently  has  advanced  only  outside  the United  States  with  accompanying limited  technology  transfer."

Folks, this study is hosted on the Department of Energy's own website.  The scientists blatantly cry out for more investment to exploit this near infinite non-polluting energy source.  

An Australian company Geodynamics is building a 50MW EGS system that should be operating in 2012.  Then they are going to scale it up with nine more identical plants for a total of 500MW produced at the site by 2016.

Now, the method is not completely without its drawbacks.  These drawbacks are centered locally to the drilling, and they are in the form of tremors, mild earthquakes.  It is not these drawbacks that account for the starved funding however.  

Research is required to make the technology more cost-effective so it can compete with the polluting and dangerous technologies.

If the nuclear industry had to operate without the Price Anderson Act of 1957, and buy insurance on the market like everyone else, it would close up shop immediately, especially given the realities at Fukushima.  In a sense atomoic power has been rammed down our throats (sometimes literally) by policies that exempt it from full accountability and the real costs of doing business.  Many suspect that is because the reactors produce militarily useful by-products like plutonium and the so-called "depleted" uranium.

Can EGS Save the World?

A large expermintal/commercial project in Basel Switzerland ran into some trouble back in December of 2006. The day after it began injecting the water down to create an underground reservoir, tremors began increasing in intensity.  They stopped the injection.

"A few hours later, a magnitude-3.4 event rattled the local population, causing fear and anger, and receiving international media attention." (Nature 462, December 2009 Online)

Minor damage to some surrounding structures halted the project indefinitely. This was a major setback.
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I certainly wouldn't drill an EGS reservoir beneath a population center.  But clearly that doesn't rule it out everywhere, as the MIT report stressed unequivocally.

"Based  on  the  analysis  of  experienced  researchers,  it  is  important  to  emphasize  that  while  further advances  are  needed,  none  of  the  known  technical  and  economic  barriers  limiting  widespread development of EGS as a domestic energy source are considered to be insurmountable."

I guess the question that matters is: who's in charge?  Who's making these decisions on our behalf?  The investment in this technology to date has been chump change, a few million here and there.  

This June, the Department of Energy announced $70M for FY2012 geothermal R&D, as if that were a large sum.  It is in fact less than the budget of the "average" Hollywood studio release, you know mindless entertainment.

We're talking about research to tap a limitless source of energy that is clean, without CO2 emissions and proven feasible since the 1970s.  It's also widely dispersed over the globe and not limited to particular regions.

Put in perspective, a single nuclear plant can cost upwards of $10 Bn ($10,000,000,000) to build and then it must be maintained, safeguarded and its waste secured for millions of years into the future.  It is then a magnet for terrorists who wish to inflict high casualties, and, uh, "terror."  It is vulnerable to natural disasters as well as intentional sabotage and the all too common stupidity.  Radioisotopes leak out during normal operations and have been linked to childhood Leukemia "clusters" and suspected of causing other maladies near the plants.
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Obama's White House is on record as pushing $36,000,000,000 to force new construction of dangerous nuclear plants, vs. $70,000,000 to support Geothermal.  Put that through the calculator and nuclear enjoys 514 times more support than EGS by Obama and DOE Secretary Chu.  

The verdict is that all the talk about clean renewable energy is just that: change you can't believe a word of.

To be continued...

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Joe Giambrone is an American author, freelance writer and filmmaker. Non-fiction works appear at International Policy Digest, WhoWhatWhy, Foreign Policy Journal, Counterpunch, Globalresearch, , OpedNews, High Times and other online outlets. His science fiction thriller Transfixion and his Hollywood satire (more...)

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