Hot Rocks: Canada Sits Atop Massive Geothermal Resource

A report published by the Geological Survey of Canada last week outlines the huge geothermal energy potential available in the world's second largest country by area. Canada currently has no geothermal electricity generation, but the report says that 100 or so individual geothermal projects could provide a substantial part of the country's baseload power needs.

"Canada's in-place geothermal power exceeds one million times Canada's current electrical consumption," the report notes, though also stating most of that available power could not actually be produced. "Environmental impacts of geothermal development are relatively minor compared to other energy developments, however there are still key issues to be addressed....Geothermal installations have the potential to displace other more costly and environmentally damaging technologies."

There is at least 5000 megawatts of available geothermal power in various parts of British Columbia, Alberta, and the Yukon. What's more, the report's authors write, the cost of delivering geothermal power is expected to rival the costs of coal within 15 years or so. The limitations of developing the huge geothermal resource have a lot to do with location: Some of the most promising areas are far away from load centers, and the costs of developing huge transmission corridors to bring the power to where it is needed would make such projects unfeasible. Still, there is enough located in accessible areas to make a big difference.

Geothermal power in the United States is further along than in Canada, though there remain ample untapped resources in a number of areas. Last year, researchers reported that West Virginia houses an amazing geothermal capacity of more than 18 000 MW. There are close to 200 geothermal projects underway around the country, expected to provide 7000 MW of electricity by the time they're finished.

And then, of course, there's Iceland. The small country takes full advantage of its unique geologic situation, generating almost all of its electricity from a combination of hydropower and geothermal. Canada may not approach such lofty renewable heights, but it's good to know that the resource is available. We'll see if momentum builds on actually developing it.

(Image via Geological Survey of Canada)

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