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Experts: Geothermal Energy Could Help Solve Global Warming

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A Napa geyser is evidence of California's geothermal resources, which scientists say should be a bigger part of the state's renewable-energy portfolio. (maisna/iStockphoto)
A Napa geyser is evidence of California's geothermal resources, which scientists say should be a bigger part of the state's renewable-energy portfolio. (maisna/iStockphoto)
 By Suzanne Potter/Dallas Heltzell, Public News Service - CA - Producer, Contact
April 19, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Geothermal-energy experts are meeting in Sacramento today to plot California's energy future, with an eye on further developing what they say is a reliable, inexhaustible source of energy.

The California Energy Commission is sponsoring the workshop to discuss a new three-year plan that calls for more research to make geothermal a larger part of the renewable-energy picture. Jim Shnell, president of the nonprofit Ocean Geothermal Energy Foundation, said new technologies allow engineers to drill through the earth's crust where it is thinnest, on the sea floor.

"We have this extremely hot, high-pressure resource that allows us to be much more effective, much more efficient both at producing electricity and at converting electricity, by electrolysis, into hydrogen," he said.

This power can serve as a backup at times when intermittent sources such as solar and wind are waning, he said, and the hydrogen can be used to power vehicles.

California's geology makes it one of the best places in the world for geothermal energy, with hot spots at the Salton Sea and in geysers near San Francisco. In addition, off the Northern California coast, the ocean rift where geothermal energy is released lies only a few hundred miles offshore, making it relatively accessible.

Geothermal energy is constantly produced by the earth's molten core, worldwide - and thus, the experts say, it will never run out. According to Shnell, the possibilities are endless - but geothermal needs more funding from industry and the government.

"Ultimately, we're looking for it to be a solution for global warming," he said. "Because we can reach 100 percent renewable energy, and get away from coal and oil and all of that stuff completely, for good. That would take decades."

Although the federal government is moving to cut budgets for scientific research, he said the state of California has a dedicated grant-making fund known as the Geothermal Resource Development Account.

Information on the workshop is online at energy.ca.gov.

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