The most promising renewable energy of all is making pro-renewable Greens frightened and angry. It’s geothermal energy, which taps into the natural warmth below Earth's surface, providing an abundant heat source.
Geothermal exploitation used to be about finding and retrieving hot water – but new technology allows water to be sent into deep fissures several thousand feet down, where it meets hot dry rock, and comes out piping hot.
The problem? New geothermal techniques requires hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and environmental crusaders have convinced themselves that fracking is evil. Thanks to misleading propaganda such as the movie Gasland, campaigners fear contamination of the water table and apocalyptic earthquakes. (For some Greens, the world is a disaster movie set to loop.)
Yet the water contamination so dramatically illustrated in Gasland, with domestic water taps jetting out fire, preceded fracking by decades: it’s caused by methane much nearer the surface. The risk of small quakes, undetectable by humans, from fracking is similar to the risk posed by coal mining. And the chemical lubricants used in the process, while similar to antifreeze, are well regulated and are being superseded by organic alternatives.
But environmentalists are scoring some victories. A fascinating feature from the Greenwire news service captures the frustration.
"No matter how much information you give people, if their minds are made up, their minds are made up," says an official at the Bureau of Land Management, which conducted the studies.
This is because the most successful political movement of the past few decades, environmentalism, has relied so heavily on apocalypse: on the suspension of rational risk assessments, and the stimulation of wild, runaway fantasies. The equivalent of running into a room screaming: "We're all going to die! So do as I say." As a political technique it has been very effective, but it leaves proponents in something of a cul de sac.
Greenwire notes that the potential of geothermal energy in the USA is stupendous. Using today’s technology, geothermal plants in North America would have a power capacity of three terawatts – three times the nation’s current electricity production capacity. Skewed by an almost religious attachment to expensive and inefficient wind farms, Britain’s own geothermal investment are, so far, pretty puny.
But it’s hard to see where else those environmentalists who are against hydrocarbons and nuclear energy can turn for low-carbon energy. Unless power cuts really are the goal. ®