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Björk gets it wrong on sustainability of geothermal energy

Icelandic singer Björk at Concert in Santiago, Chile (source: flickr/ F de Falso, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 23 Nov 2010

Is Geothermal energy renewable or not? Well, if managed correctly it is sustainable, so experts in the industry. To compare it with oil or mining, simply doesn´t get it right.

In a rather controversial interview with Canadian magazine Maclean, Icelandic singer Björk – once again – made the case against Canadian Magma Energy. This time though she might have gotten it wrong when she says that geothermal energy “lasts about 50 years,” Björk reportedly told Maclean Magazine. “Geothermal plants work similarly to mines, you drill and then there is only a limited amount down there. When Magma’s current 65-year deal is over, the hole will be empty.”

This is published by an article in GreenBeat (VentureBeat.com): “But Maclean retracted Björk’s statements and revised the story on its website after Magma threatened a libel lawsuit based on her comments that Magma had broken laws in South America. But the question still remains: Was she right about the geothermal stuff?

GreenBeat went to the experts and asked. So, is geothermal renewable or not?

“If you manage it well, it will be operating indefinitely. It’s not like an oilfield where at some point there is no more oil,” said Peter Asmus, Pike Research analyst and author of two books on renewable energies.

Asmus cited the largest geothermal complex in the world, The Geysers, as an example of how things can go wrong. In that case, too many companies were trying to harvest steam without coordinating with each other, and it became a situation like “too many straws pulling from the same pool,” Asumus said. Calpine has since taken over the entire facility, and local governmental stakeholders united to pump wastewater to recharge and stabilize the steam coming out.

The same can go for the lava-harvest form of geothermal — if companies don’t inject the lava back into the ground after they take it out and use it to heat water, then the resource could run out or become increasingly difficult to harvest.

“It’s a resource that can be renewable if it’s well managed. If you just extract enegy and not worry about reinjecting or renewing, you can use it all up,” said John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

So it appears that geothermal is, in fact, renewable — but with caveats. It’s unclear whether Björk felt the geothermal resources in Iceland were being managed in an unsustainable way — or whether she misunderstood the concept of geothermal entirely.

Geothermal has one key advantage over wind and solar in that it can run 24/7 and thus produce more power. But geothermal isn’t available everywhere — mostly in areas with a lot of volcanic activity below the surface, like Iceland, Southeast Asia, and the West Coast of the U.S. — such as the Salton Sea facilities in southern California.

It’s hard to be the ugly stepsister, too. Geothermal may well have attracted the ire of Björk and at times, other environmentalists, because it’s a process that looks so similar to oil or coal mining, rife with heavy industrial equipment and drilling.

“Geothermal is not visible and when it is, it looks like an industrial power plant. It doesn’t distinguish itself by its looks as green,” Asmus said.”

Source: VentureBeat