Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Poznan: Just bubbling with enthusiasm...

Not really. CGS was just searching for a witty title for this post about the potential for geothermal energy. Just as the global climate negotiations at Poznan looked to a dreary rehash of climate cliches (think of your children, cruel world!), the UN Environment Program announced new findings that indicate a minimum of 7000 megawatts of energy could be produced by tapping geothermal sources in Africa's Great Rift Valley. That's almost as much geothermal energy as the entire globe produces at the moment, according to the US National Renewable Energy Laborotory. Call East Africa "the Saudi Arabia of geothermal."

This geothermal capacity represents exciting sustainable-development potential for East Africa. Geothermal electricity plants are typically zero- or ultra-low emission facilities, though the technologies employed are not as mature as those used in fossil-combustion plants. The US Government is aiding a number of countries in assessing and developing geothermal resources, but it's fair to say that the vast majority of the world's geothermal potential remains untapped. China, for instance, generates about the same amount as the United States- some 2500 MW annually, but newer technologies being developed by the US Department of Energy promise to tap far greater heat resources.

It's uncertain how cost-effective expanded geothermal projects will be, particularly given the recent collapse of oil prices. But regardless, the East African find gives the sustainable development community a rare opportunity to cheer the potential for linking economic development and climate sustainability. Let's hope the US government continues to build on its efforts to diffuse and deploy geothermal in promising areas of the world- which seem to be growing more numerous.

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