Geothermal Power in Alaska Holds Hidden Model for Clean Energy
September 14, 2011
From Popular Mechanics: The whine of the power plant sounds like a jet engine as refrigerant blasts through the turbine at 1000 mph. Though the equipment is compact, the din fills the vast hangar, and mechanical engineer Gwen Holdmann has to shout to be heard: “What you see here is very Alaskan. It’s not painted. It’s not pretty. But it’s real.” I place my hand on the steel door capping the plant’s evaporator; it’s warm to the touch, filled with Alaska’s most promising new energy source–plain water.
It’s midnight at Chena Hot Springs Resort, 56 miles northeast of Fairbanks, and outside, the July sun has only just slipped below the horizon. Holdmann’s blond hair escapes a loose ponytail as she climbs onto a metal walkway to point out the heat exchanger. A black-eared husky named Amberlynn watches her every move from below. “The cool thing about this … ,” she begins, as she does most sentences, and it occurs to me that it’s appropriate every time: This is cool. It is Alaska’s first geothermal plant, and it’s producing electricity from lower temperature water than any plant in the world.
Heat stored beneath the Earth’s surface holds 50,000 times the energy of all the oil and gas in the world combined. If it could be harnessed, it would be an ideal source of base-load power: Geothermal is cleaner than fossil fuels, and more reliable than alternative sources like tidal, wind, wave and solar. Today, geothermal plants in the United States generate nearly 3000 megawatts of electricity–enough to power South Dakota. Almost all of it comes from reservoirs that are at least 300 F. Read more