Italy is a country with an enormous cultural heritage, but did you know that the worlds first geothermal energy plant was invented in Italy? Would it surprise you to know that the technology was invented in 1904? Astonishingly, in the more than one hundred years since the invention of geothermal technology humanity seems to have ignored this gift from the earth in favor of fossil fuels.
In fact, despite the lack of support from government, a small number of forward thinking, progressive, U.S. companies have invested in geothermal technology and are actually providing clean renewable power to the U.S. power grid. In California's Salton Sea CalEnergy operate 10 geothermal energy plants with a combined output of 327 MW of power. A tiny proportion of America's power needs, yet a source which could be cultivated with the proper support.
So what's stopping us from using this clean renewable energy to power all of our homes? Well until recently the political will wasn't there. However, with the price of oil continuing to go up and up people, governments and industry are starting to look down for alternatives.
Germany, a country not known for it's hot springs or it's volcanic activity, has recently seen a massive jump in interest in geothermal. In Unterhaching near Munich a community driven geothermal project went online in June 2008. The plant is capable of producing up to 3.4 MW of electricity. This is the most modern geothermal plant in Germany and was delayed for almost a year due to competition from the oil industry for drilling resources.
With this abundant clean energy at our fingertips (under our feet would be more apt) why are governments still investing in fossil fueled power stations? What's extremely worrying is that not only are our governments not putting enough resources into renewable energy technologies, they are are about to compound their mistake and go nuclear. In January 2008 the British government announced that it was authorizing the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants. Despite protests from the Irish government and others, they seem hell bent on following through with their plans.
It seems regardless of the danger to human life that nuclear plants pose, the radioactive pollution caused by their operation and the enormous hazard caused by the huge amounts of radioactive waste they generate, governments seem set to branch off in the wrong direction yet again.
In a speech given in Washington D.C. in July 2008 Al Gore challenged the American people to produce 100% of their energy from renewable sources within ten years. Are they up to that challenge? Are we?