Geothermal Delights

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Te Puia Geothermal Valley

How much further can we maximize the potential for geothermal energy?  There are challenges – geothermal energy is extremely localized and not always easy to harness. But there is hope, depending on the technology that evolves for the future. It’s an important subject – let’s hope we can aspire more geological engineers for the future. The Earth and Space Science curriculum can explore these concepts further through teaching units (91193) physical principles related to the Earth System and (91190) how organisms survive in an extreme environment.

New Zealand’s Geothermal Energy

I first saw geothermal action, when I travelled into the heart of New Zealand’s north island. Rotoura was smelly, steamy and sensational all at once.  Charged with energy from the subduction zone below, it set the stage for geothermal show time.  There are a number of geothermal sites close to Rotorua to visit, of which I saw Te Puia geothermal valley and Hells Gate. The coloured landscape is spoilt for geysers, hot springs and bubbling mud pools.  It really was a steamy affair with nature. 

Not only is this region attractive for tourists, but also for energy companies. The majority of geothermal energy comes from the Taupo Volcanic Zone and contributes approximately 13% to New Zealand’s electrical supply.  It is not much, but it is something to be proud of.  New Zealand was pioneering in having built some of the first geothermal stations in the world.  Currently, there are six fields used for geothermal electricity generation.

Africa’s Geothermal Energy

I fondly remember seeing Kenya’s Hells Gate National Park cycling past gazelles, zebras and giraffes as they grazed. Occasionally one or two would life their head and stare at me – they must have thought I was a strange animal on wheels. I also remember the power of this geothermal hotspot, which provides immense potential for Kenya now and for the future. Olkaria geothermal power plant is located in the national park – the plume of natural steam was impressive and now explained the constant rumbling sound I could hear in the distance. In fact, it is the largest single turbine geothermal power plant operating in the world. As Africa’s rift valley continues to slowly tear apart, more reliable energy and reduced electricity costs are the delights Kenya can look forward to.

South America’s Geothermal Energy

The altiplano lagoons in Chile and Bolivia are another geological marvel, dominated by massive active volcanoes of the Central Volcanic Zone. Warmed from the earth below colourful lagoons contrasted against jagged volcanic peaks and clouds you could almost touch. We were high after all – close to 5000 metres elevation. Progress is underway in Bolivia to initiate geothermal power plant development with the support of other counties, notably Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

At nearly 5000 metres,  Sol de Mañana geothermal field in Bolivia was gurgling away, releasing earth’s energy. I walked where I was not suppose to, curiosity was convincing me. Steam and various gases poured out of the fumaroles and mud bubbled noisily. Although, not as picturesque as the El Tatio geysers in Chile, the Sol de Manana geysers appeared more intense. I liked the intensity.

Check out the small video clips below of the geothermal action I saw in Bolivia.

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