Thursday, April 12, 2012

How Much of Canada Could BC Power?

British authorities are meeting with their Icelandic counterparts to consider powering the UK with geothermal electricity.  It's a terrific, low-carbon solution.   Take the heat the earth naturally brings to the surface in places like Iceland, use it to produce steam, use that steam to power turbines and run generators that produce electricity that is transmitted via high-voltage cables.

Geothermal is probably the least understood alternative energy source and possibly the best.   The top geothermal producers at the moment are the US, the Philippines and Indonesia.   Iceland lags behind mainly because it's only been serving its own small population.

The idea of Iceland powering the UK ought to make us wake up to the geothermal potential we have beneath our feet in Canada.  The Canadian Geothermal Energy Association says we have only charted 40% of our landmass but the geothermal sources already identified represent the energy equivalent of - wait for it - one million times Canada's current electricity consumption.   For many reasons only a small fraction of that could be viably usable but even a small fraction multiplied by one million is an awful lot of  carbon free, clean power.

Another selling point is economies of scale.   The first geothermal energy you tap is always the most expensive.   The more you take, it just keeps getting cheaper and cheaper.   And, unlike dinosaur juice, the earth offers us an inexhaustible supply of geothermal energy.

Early attempts at geothermal haven't always been successful.  The cheap and dirty route has involved pumping surface water deep underground and then simply grabbing the steam that produces.  The problem has been it can trigger seismic events, earthquakes.  But it's not necessary to go that deep which means a closed circuit system that contains the water/steam cycle instead of allowing steam energy to destabilize rock formations should be achievable.  And, in places like British Columbia, there are vents where the heat is brought to or very near the surface.

I have often lamented the chronic, inexcusable lack of vision shown by Harper and Ignatieff in the global meltdown of 2008 when they pushed through their supposed "stimulus/recovery" budget that was tantamount to throwing billions of tax dollars aimlessly into the air.   That money could have been invested in job-creating and economy-boosting infrastructure mega-projects like the creation of a trans-Canada, national super grid, something the Euros are creating today.

Oh, but I forgot.   Canada is a petro-state, governed by a Parliament of petro-pols.   We focus on direct and indirect subsidies of our fossil fuel industries in return for super-low royalties and an accumulating environmental hangover.

British Columbia has an abundance of geothermal vents if only we had governments, federal and provincial, willing to create a truly national grid and support a large-scale transition to alternative energy.

If you think this is all pie in the sky, too good to be true, you should read the evaluation prepared by the Icelandic Bank on Canada's geothermal resources.   It begins by noting that there are already plenty of Canadian companies in the geothermal industry - operating successfully but almost entirely in countries other than the Petro-Dominion of Canada itself.   And remember, these are the guys from Iceland and, when it comes to geothermal energy, they are the Pros from Dover.

But Canadian geothermal will probably remain an enormous, untapped clean energy alternative until our governments, federal and provincial, are willing to stand behind it financially.  It needs a big shove, up front, to get it going and a grid to share the power across the country.

Geothermal, like all alternative energy sources, is not the solution of itself but it has the potential to be an important part of the solution.  Alternative, clean energy has to be seen not simply as another way to meet Canada's growing energy demands but as a way to replace fossil fuel energy.

No comments: