It is him. Excited we look out of the window. Could it be real? We park the car aside the road and wonder in astonishment. It must be him. There, in front of us, with his feet in the dark earth, and his head covered with a layer of snow. There, the breaking point of the horizon that provokes too many sparks of our imagination. The Mount Doom. We are in the country of Lord of the Rings, after all.
Willing to watch yourself at how New Zealand combines Geothermal energy and Lord of the Rings Magic? Watch my vlog!
While our route along New Zealand has been drenched by images of the Lord of the Rings, the Mount Doom was one of the points we were really looking forward to. But what inspires me even more along the route, is the steam escaping from the earth at random places. The boiling mud, and hot rivers. The ochre coloured earth, the different minerals provoking different colours in the soil, turning certain regions into a painter’s palette.
New Zealand has more magic than Lord of the Rings solely. All the above-mentioned features are signs of the high potential of geothermal energy in this region. Since New Zealand is located on the fault line of two tectonic plates, the earth is rough and unpredictable. This causes not only frequent earth quakes and tsunamis, but it renders access to the heath of the core of the earth, which remains largely inaccessible in other parts of the world.
Back in the times, the Maori used to use this heat to wash and cook, or to bath. Later, when the first English colonists arrived, they used the heat to set up spa’s and hot pools. The usages of the Earth’s heat and energy became wider over times.
In 1958. New Zealand started turning this heat into electric energy with its first geothermal power plant, which was only the second of its kind in the entire world. Nowadays geothermal energy makes up 22% of New Zealand’s primary energy supply, of which 17% for electricity.
In the meantime, certain industrial processes in New Zealand use the Earth’s heat directly such as wood- and paper-processing; while the heat is used as well to heat pools and greenhouses.
Yet, Geothermal energy in New Zealand has way more potential than its current use. This is awesome news, since New Zealand recently pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050. Since any geothermal power plant emits less greenhouse gas emissions than even the cleanest gas-fired power plant, heaps of carbon emissions could be saved by switching to geothermal energy. Even despite the other emissions that are caused by the extraction and processing of geothermal energy.
In addition to the savings in greenhouse gases, geothermal energy has one advantage over other renewable energy resources. It is not dependent of the weather. Whereas solar and wind energy depend on the current weather circumstances, the flow of geothermal energy can be maintained constant, when managed well.
The latter is crucial in keeping geothermal energy as a real sustainable and reliable energy source: management. Geothermal energy must be extracted and re-injected as such that the source does not dry up or cool down too much, so the process stops. Moreover, whereas geothermal energy in countries as New Zealand can be extracted easily because the earth crust is thinner (positioned at the fault line of the two tectonic plates), in other regions it is harder accessible. The techniques for drilling to reach the warm fluid of the earth, in addition to the pumping up of this fluid, the processing of it, and afterwards the re-inject of the fluid in the earth, must be done really carefully. If not, the process can cause more damage than benefits.
Therefore, location is crucial. It shouldn’t surprise that the countries with the highest production of geothermal energy are located at the fault line of tectonic plates and/or in the vicinity of a volcanic zone. I remember visiting geothermal projects in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, on which you can read at the beginning of my blog; as well as in Indonesia and the Philippines. The latter two are the number two and three of geothermal energy producing countries in the world. Followed by Turkey and New Zealand. Mexico, Italy and Iceland are on the 6th, 7thand 8thposition.
But the number one producer, which has double the installed capacity of Indonesia, is the USA, with the biggest complexes in California. As a result, the US produce about 16.7 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of geothermal energy a year !
The right energy source at the right location
Yet, in some countries the geothermal fluid is less easily accessible and geothermal energy might not be a feasible energy source. But hey, no worries, there will be other renewable energy sources available, such as wind, solar, hydro, waves, and biomass energy. In the end it all comes to find the right renewable energy sources for your location, that are the most reliable, sustainable, feasible and eventually profitable as well.
Curious to know how geothermal energy works and how it looks like in New Zealand? Take a look at my vlog and watch and learn!