All eyes are on Hawaii as the Mauna Loa volcano eruption wreaks havoc.
But despite the chaos, the lava flow is a reminder of the state’s natural resources and potential in one particular area: geothermal development.
Hawaii is the most petroleum-dependent state in the U.S., using around 12 times more energy than it produces. Yet behind all that fossil fuel reliance lies a rich alternative energy source: geothermal power.
Although Hawaii has made some progress toward geothermal energy adoption, it’s far from untapping its true potential. One country it can look to for inspiration is Iceland.
Volcanic Energy In Iceland
Iceland is well-known for its geothermal areas, which take the form of hot springs popular among tourists (such as the Blue Lagoon). But beyond the Instagram photos, these beautiful bodies of water offer geothermal power: volcanic heat found below the earth’s surface that generates steam that can become electricity.
This produces around 30% of Iceland’s power and 80% of its heating and hot water. It therefore plays an essential role in a lot of the country’s infrastructure and significantly impacts the local economy.
Applying This To Hawaii
Iceland isn’t the only place in the world that is rich in geothermal power. Geothermal energy resources are close to the surface in Hawaii, which is also why it has numerous active volcanoes.
This opportunity hasn’t been completely missed (although the state lags behind Iceland). Hawaii island is home to Puna Geothermal Venture, a binary-cycle power plant that produces electricity using vapor. It currently has a capacity of 38 MW, which it’s aiming to increase by 8 MW. As one of Hawaii’s younger islands and the most volcanically active, it’s a natural choice for geothermal energy.
However, possibilities don’t start and end here. It’s possible to generate geothermal energy anywhere with the right underlying geology (a heat source, a migration pathway, a heat reservoir, and economic recovery). And as luck would have it, Hawaiian Electric believes there are also potential geothermal sources in West Hawaii and Maui.
So, why isn’t Hawaii making the most of them already? Part of the reason may be past controversies.
There was a blowout of toxic gas in Puna in 2013, and an eruption in 2018 resulted in the Puna Geothermal Venture closing for two years. There are also concerns about the cultural impact of extracting energy from Mauna Loa, which is said to be home to the volcano goddess Pele.
Therefore, adopting geothermal energy needs to be done while considering cultural implications and using modern, safe methods to reduce the chances of a disaster.
Despite concerns, the potential benefits seem to outweigh the costs.
For one, it would help Hawaii to meet its pledge to cut carbon emissions 70% by 2030. Plus, over the past year, the importance of energy security has been a hot topic.
If local areas can have greater control of their own energy sources, this problem is mitigated. In Iceland, the use of geothermal energy has helped to reduce its heat and electricity prices — and Hawaii could stand to benefit from the same phenomenon.
The production of geothermal energy also has the potential to create more jobs in the area, therefore benefiting the economy. This includes work in all the following areas:
- suppliers of primary metals and mechanical equipment
- contractors and consultants to analyze resources and financing
- drilling and well services
- environmental services
- geothermal developers
More workers and economic activity results in more tax revenue for the local government, which benefits everyone.
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