Wednesday August 20, 2014
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Hot news from Grant's Pass.
Fred Franz took off for Grant's Pass, Oregon a few weeks back. So far there's been no word from him, but there is word from Grant's Pass, which considering the size of the place (it ain't big), is quite a surprise.
Geothermal-energy developers working on the flanks of an ancient Oregon volcano in Grant's Pass say they have taken an important technological step toward expanding geothermal energy from a small niche into a potential major source of homegrown power.
If you know anything about Iceland you know that the Icelandics use geothermal energy as their primary means of generating electricity. Why we have not developed it as a resource is a natural question, but here's the answer:
Two problems are holding back the next level of geothermal development, known as Enhanced Geothermal Systems, or EGS. One is creating reservoirs big enough for commercial production in places where they don't naturally occur. The other is holding down costs.
The project is at Newberry Crater, the remains of an ancient volcano in central Oregon's Cascade Range. The site has plenty of heat in rocks deep below the surface tht can be used to boil water into steam, but it lacks the cracks and fissures in the rock needed to serve as a steam reservoir for a geothermal power plant.
Company engineers have done some very clever engineering. They pumped cold water into the ground, cracking open fissures in the deep rock, a process known as hydroshearing. They then sealed one reservoir from the other using a new method. They injected ground-up recycled plastic bottles, which plugged up the cracks in one reservoir while millions of gallons of cold water were being pumped in to create another. Then the plastic diffused, leaving behind three reservoirs.
Company President Susan Petty says that more analysis and testing is needed to show if the reservoirs are good enough for commercial power production in the future — which would be achieved by using steam from the reservoirs to spin turbines to generate electricity.
This is just another example why capitalism will always be superior to socialism or any other form of planned economy or ownership of the means of production by the government. Yes, we sometimes criticize business people for being a bit greedy, and yes we have to regulate that greed for everyone's good, but in the long run it is that drive to make a buck that greases the engine of progress, not a "progressive" government.
Ready to run your house on power from the hot rocks beneath the Rim?
Tom. You may be interested: I lived in Grants Pass for 4 years just before moving to Payson. It is a lovely area , especially in the summer months when the winter clouds go away. Now to the topic mentioned. Klamath Falls is a city some miles East of Grants Pass and closer to the Cascades. It has used geothermal heating for public buildings for god-knows-how-long. All along the Cascade range there are signs of thermal activity, not unlike the Sierras and Rockies. Finding heat is not a big problem but harnessing it and financing the necessary equipment in order to make geothermal financially viable is a problem. I will liken it to bringing water to Payson, building the infrastructure for holding/treatment and then extending hardware to each and every home in town. I love the concept of geothermal but the problems, as the article discusses, are large unless it is a small operation for folks who live atop a thermal vent or other easy access.
John, you dirty devil! You know something about everything. :-)
Surprisingly I knew a little bit about Grants Pass too. Not much, just that Zane Grey wrote about it in a book about fresh water fishing, and that he had a cabin there, in the Rogue River area.
You're right, of course. Geothermal energy is not always as free as we wish it might be. The reason is obvious: If volcanic activity is close to the surface you are not likely to be in a place where people would want to live. If the volcanoes are gone, the heat trapped in the rocks is not likely to be close to the surface. If the heat is trapped in deep rock it costs money to get at it and use it.
However, Iceland is an example I saw with my own eyes where those problems have been largely overcome, and it appears that this company is onto something with its new technology. We need that. Heat is potential electricity. If we can tap into the inexhaustible supply of heat within the Earth we can forget about having to use fossil fuels to such a great extent. We tap into the heat, generate electricity, send it where we need it, and use it.
The question of cost will, I imagine, be the same as what has happened here with water. Back east where I come from people would die of a heart attack to get the kind of water bills we do. Water is right there. All you have to do is stick a finger in the ground and get out of the way. The main cost, in fact almost the entire cost, is moving it and purifying it. Few people know it, but the water for New York City comes from a lake a hundred miles away and passes through a rock tunnel that is as deep as 1,400 feet. (And all this was done by hand a hundred years ago.) It comes up in Central Park, and because the lake is at a higher elevation it runs all the way up to the 12th story through natural pressure. In New London, water was so cheap it was basically free. If, for example, you rented, the landlord paid the water bill because it wasn't worth even adding to the rent.
In Port Arthur, Texas, where I lived for 8 years, all it took to drill a well that would supply you with unlimited water for anything other than drinking purposes was a water hose and a 20 foot length of ordinary three quarter inch galvanized pipe. Cut the pipe at an angle to make a sharp end, hook up the hose, stick the pipe in the ground, turn on the water, and the pipe would automatically cut its way downward. In an hour or so it would be into the permanent water table. All you needed to do was to hook up a small, cheap pump.
How'd you like to be able to do that up here? All the water you want, all the time, for the cost of running a pump that would cost 27¢ to run 24 hours a day if you ever wanted to do it?
Anyway, there is a vast area of natural heat under us here in the Rim Country, and in almost every area of the nation. Some of it has to do with the natural movement of the plates, some with natural radiation. With the heat from the sun keeping the surface warmed all the time a rough, rough, rough estimate is that we could draw on natural heat for all the power we might ever need--without polluting anything in any way--for a least a billion or two years.
Hey! Even Al Gore could understand that. :-)
In truth, we'd be smart to draw off some of the energy under Montana. If we don't it will blow again in about 100,000 years--and we won't like the results.
Just thought I'd tell everyone that Fred made it to Grant's Pass, stayed with his sister for a while until he got his house set up, and is now trying to get into the swing of things over there.
You know what he misses?
Yes! I miss Tinys. It's difficult to find good restaurants with reasonable prices. I'm now eating at a place called Black Forest Family restaurant.
John, I wonder if you remember the place?
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