USGS study hints at geothermal energy potential for Akutan 

By Joseph Miller | The Alaska Dispatch: A recently published study of geothermal energy sources on Akutan Island indicate the resource holds significantly more potential than previously thought.

The U.S. Geological Survey published the results of a geochemical study that was conducted on Akutan Island in 2012 that confirms the potential for the development of geothermal power on the island.

The USGS reports that the results from the study show higher concentrations of hydrothermal components in the hot spring waters and an increase in water discharges from the hot spring systems. In the early 1980s several studies were done on the island in hopes of finding a potential source for geothermal energy. This most recent study has found the current heat output from the hot spring system on the island is estimated around 29 megawatts, almost 10 times higher than the heat output that was recorded in the early 1980s. If the geothermal energy on Akutan Island were to be harnessed by a modern geothermal energy plant, the heat output could produce several megawatts of electricity. One megawatt of electricity can be used to supply the electric needs of about 750 modern homes.

Many potential factors go into determining whether a place like Akutan Island is a candidate for geothermal development, however. According to Deborah Bergfeld, a USGS geochemist and the lead author on the report confirming Akutan Island’s geothermic potential, some of these considerations have nothing to do with the scientific aspects but rather on social and economic ones.

“The economy drives a lot of it in regards to determining whether a place like Akutan Island has geothermal energy that can be used,” said Bergfeld. “But that is beyond our purview. Some other things that are involved include having a resource as well as having a need for the kind of resource that we find there. Beyond that, our part of it is to determine whether there is potential for the heat to be used or mined, which is what our study was focusing on. We determine whether there is evidence in the gas samples and the water samples that suggest that this resource is generating enough heat for it to be used for geothermal energy.”

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