14 June 2010
what's hot and what's not
Reykjavík's hot water source is covered in moss. And it makes clouds. You might even call it pretty.
In this steamy valley lies Nesjavellir, the power plant that pumps geothermally heated water from the island's volcanic innards, through a 27 kilometer pipe, and out my showerhead. Over the course of that 27 km, most of which runs above ground, the water loses less heat than your diurnal fluctuation in body temperature. That's not a lot. In fact, that's damn efficient. And at what cost? Well, given that the water came from the sky, the heat from the ground, and both of those things continue to produce without any sign of faltering, it's pretty low. The plant even uses the excess steam to generate electricity via steam turbines. As for greenhouse gas emissions, the yearly total equates to what a coal-fired power plant burps out over about five days. Or what the United States's fleet of 614 produces in about 12 minutes. Ouch.
What's the deal, America? Even Hawaii, our own island hot spot, has a coal-fired power plant, and generates 90% of its electricity from fossil-fuels. While our Hawaiian president opposes the coal-chomping beasts, he gets pretty excited about emission-less nuclear plants. He's using your tax dollars to help energy giant Southern Company (the owner and operator of 22 coal-fired power plants) build two nuclear reactors in Burke, Georgia, about 180 miles from my home. The question of where to keep the waste remains on the table. And apparently Obama and Steven Chu have no qualms about paying Russia to be our number one uranium supplier. (Are Obama's efforts to "restart" with Russia grounded in our uranium lust?)
So maybe nuclear is the lesser of two evils, but come on - with the burgeoning development of renewable technology, can't we make a bigger effort forgo these icky questions of mining and drilling and controlling for emissions? The Recovery Act passed last year allocates a chunk ($61.3 billion) of money to clean energy projects, however with our yearly military budget topping a trillion dollars, it's pretty clear where our priorities lie. I know we're not Iceland, but we can do better, and it's painful to watch the U.S. continue to ignore the obvious.
more about energy use in the states