Friday, December 18, 2009

CASE STUDY: Geothermal Activity on Nevis Island

By Sherry Irvin

Geothermal energy comes from an amazing source: the inner sanctum of our planet Earth. It began with formation of the planet and is a direct result of the decay of radioactive materials, as well as solar energy absorption on the surface. It was used in ancient times to heat water for bathing and also to warm living spaces. The science has been known for centuries; it is the application of the processes to better utilize the science that is growing.

Geothermal energy has been getting quite a bit of press in recent years for its low, almost non-existent carbon emissions. It can be a great alternative to other sources of power that emit greater amounts of carbon and are far less sustainable in the long term. Its functions used to be limited to areas close to the Earth's tectonic plates. Technology, however, has enabled progress to be made wherein a greater geographic area can be accessed to benefit more people.

Nevis is a small island in the Caribbean with some serious hot springs. These hot springs were first discovered in the 18th Century and were responsible for the opening of the Bath Hotel, which was a very unique resort at the time. The springs are responsible for an even greater amount of attention today. They can produce enough geothermal energy for not only the island's power needs, but also for its neighbors as well.

The United States Energy Department performed studies on the geothermal activity at Nevis several years ago. It was determined that the island could ultimately produce 900 megawatts of electricity. The little island consumes only 9 megawatts of energy as it stands today; therefore, the remainder can easily be shared with its neighbors.

The plan is to use three geothermal wells, along with steam-powered turbines, to more fully curb any greenhouse gas emissions. Producing geothermal energy in the most efficient way possible allows the greatest impact to be applied to stop the ravages of climate change. Production is expected to begin in 2010.

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