Geothermal energy for the future

18 January, 2013, Danielle Sisson

Geothermal energy could offer more reliable and constant power supply than solar and wind, but needs more funding and support, according to the Queensland Geothermal Centre of Excellence’s Dr Aleks Atrens.

While solar and wind power can offer usable energy when the sun is out or the wind is blowing, when the conditions are not right, there is no input of energy.

Large batteries are required to keep using this sort of power in cloudy or still conditions.

However, geothermal energy can offer a continual flow of energy.

Dr Atrens is researching ways to make this form of energy cheaper to start, more accessible and easier to send to the areas that want to use the electricity.

“I think [geothermal energy] has a much larger capability to play a broader role in mix,” he says.

“Solar and wind will be limited in that capacity.

“They’re cheap while you can provide the peaks, but as soon as you need to be providing a substantial proportion of the total energy mix, you suddenly need to add in additional costs for storage.”

Geothermal heat works by using the naturally warmed rock surfaces a few kilometres underground.

Salty water, or brine, is run over the rocks and circulated through the system, with the resulting steam then being used to turn a turbine and create electrical energy.

While Dr Atrens would like the technology of geothermal energy to have access to greater resources, he sees all forms of alternative energy as important to Australia’s future.

“I’m quite optimistic that we will progress in a direction of increasing renewable energy pretty much continuously 50 to 100 years,” he says.

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