Texas Energy And Texas Electricity From Geothermal Energy
You probably have a pretty good idea of where the electricity that powers your household appliances comes from. After all those trips to the station to fill your gas tank, it’s not too much of a leap to understand that much larger engines at generation plants burn oil in the same way. After the recent push toward renewable energy, you’re probably familiar with electricity generated by solar power collectors and wind turbines. It may surprise you to know that geothermal energy is an option in Texas, and some citizens and government agencies are trying to make it a bigger part of the Lone Star State’s energy picture.
What is geothermal energy, anyway? You’ve probably heard about it more often with respect to countries such as Iceland, where geothermal energy provides the majority of the island’s electricity. That’s because Iceland is placed right between two tectonic plates, the large sections of the Earth’s crust that move around over the molten parts. Because there’s a seam, that magma under the surface heats up the earth. By placing an energy plant over that steam as it rises, electricity can be created but instead of being fueled by oil, the plant uses huge steam engines. While geothermal is a much easier option for places with the best geography, it’s still a viable option for places like Texas that are right in the middle of a large tectonic plate.
The Texas State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) points out that, as of 2007, “58 new geothermal energy projects were under development in the U.S., which will provide an additional 2,250 MW of electric power capacity and 18 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually when completed.” While this would represent a very small fraction of the country’s electricity supply, it is definitely a start.
How would geothermal energy be generated in Texas? The SECO points out that the best potential for geothermal energy can be found in central Texas, in the Trans-Pecos region, and can best be captured with “direct use” methods. This means that enterprising energy moguls will make use of hot water or heat close to the Earth’s surface. Direct-use geothermal is more intuitive than you might think; you’re probably familiar with the idea of hot springs or geysers such as Yosemite’s Old Faithful. Many municipalities take advantage of this resource by pumping the water under streets to melt snow or channeling it directly into buildings to provide heat. In the case of the Trans-Pecos, many of the most promising sites would center around abandoned oil and gas wells that have since been naturally filled with superheated water. It’s ironic, but fitting that the future of electricity will be forged partially by the remnants of the Texas energy past.
The SECO also points out that there is a small area of “hot dry rock” that could, after technology improves, be suitable for the generation of geothermal electricity. This region is in slightly-higher populated eastern Texas. While oil-based generation plants billow undesirable gases into the air and create other pollution, SECO claims that, “direct use of geothermal energy for homes and commercial operations can achieve savings up to 80% lower than fossil fuels.” This would be a win-win; Texas electricity consumers would get cheap, plentiful energy, and the land would be less polluted.
As with any ambitious plan, it seems easier said than done. Fortunately, however, Texas has demonstrated a great track record when it comes to making use of potential renewable energy sources. Tom Smith, the Director of the Public Citizen’s Texas Office, recently bragged about the fact that Texas met its goal for renewable energy fifteen years ahead of schedule. This was primarily due to the quick proliferation of wind power in the state. (Best of all, the push to use new energy sources brought the state 83,000 new jobs.)
What is on the horizon for Texas geothermal energy? Kate Galbraith, a reporter for Houston’s KTVT, points out that the first license to build a geothermal power plant in Texas was granted three years ago to a Nevada company called Ormat Technologies. The Texas Governor’s office, in conjunction with industrial and environmental agencies, continues to make good on its promise to diversify the state’s energy portfolio for the good of all Texans.
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