Hot Rocks: Canada Sits Atop Massive Geothermal Resource

Report suggests 100 projects could provide much of the country's power needs

2 min read
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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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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