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Hot flashes. The beauty of geothermal energy is that it's conceptually simple: a virtually unlimited heat source beneath our feet. All that we have to do is drill for it, right? The problem is, we need rock that is not too deep, is highly permeable and comes with its own water supply for making steam. Such places exist. Most folks are familiar with California's The Geysers field, which has produced electricity for 44 years with no end in sight; it still produces almost 1,000 MW/yr. Collectively, geothermal energy provides more than 2,800 MW of electricity – comparable to 60 million barrels of oil per year, enough for 3.5 million homes. And this is only a small fraction of the US potential. There are also plants in the Philippines, Mexico, Italy and 17 other countries.
However, eventually, the water is depleted. Even if massive amounts of water could be supplied in the form of wastewater – as is being done in some places – together, these specialized requirements make viable geothermal sites few and far between. As such, these hydrothermal (steam generating) sites will probably never exceed 1% of world primary energy supply. But what if you could find shallow hot rock, eliminate the water requirement, create permeability at will, and do it all at a reasonable price? Well, then you would have something with the potential to change the world. Or at least Australia.
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