When we think about geothermal energy, we usually think about somewhere like Iceland, which has more volcanoes that it knows what to do with. But according to a new study funded by Google.org, the U.S. has the potential to easily, right now, replace all of our coal-fired power plants with clean and endless geothermal power.
Geothermal is really about as good as it gets when it comes to power generation. Done properly, it's very reliable and efficient with minimal downtime and relatively few environmental concerns. All you have to do is drill a couple holes into the Earth: cold water goes down one hole, gets heated up, and then comes back up the other hole and spins a steam generator. Bam, electricity!
It's easiest to do this if you're living on or near to a volcano or other geologic hotspot, since the hotter the ground is, the shallower you can drill and still get water hot enough for power generation. Here in the U.S., we've got geothermal power plants operating primarily in the western states, where there's an active continental margin (and more than a few active volcanoes) to keep things lively and exciting. Most of the eastern U.S., however, was long thought to be dull and boring, at least from a geothermal perspective. But a study by Southern Methodist University, funded by Google.org, has put together a bunch of data from oil and gas drilling showing that the East Coast might actually be good for something for once. (DVICE's East Coast writers would like to thank Evan for putting down his surf board long enough to write this post. -Ed)
As this map shows, there are some hot spots in (for example) West Virginia that, if tapped, could easily produce more electricity than all of the state's coal-fired power plants. And looking at the country as a whole, if we start adopting geothermal systems that can extract electricity from even low-temperature (sub-boiling) water, there's enough geothermal energy in the U.S. to produce ten times as much power as we currently get from dirty, dangerous coal power.