ISSUES,INSIGHTS AND COLOURFUL MOMENTS-FROM THE DESK OF AN ENGLISH AUTHOR.
The Sun doesn’t always shine, and the Wind doesn’t always blow.
The title is an irritating fact reminding us of the capricious and unreliable nature of these much-vaunted natural phenomena, and makes a nonsense of the claims by Climate activists that trusting their narrow opinion is the way forward. Such a vacillating nature does not fill any consumer of energy with absolute confidence though still, meanwhile, accepting that any addition to the enervated energy supply, at the moment, is essential and supportive. At least, I sincerely hope that any present methods are a temporary manifestation of our incompetence in such matters. I might also be less critical if they weren’t such a visual disaster on the landscape! But they are, and mankind should be determined to develop alternatives that are consistent, reliable, safe, and harmonious. Sadly, in the United Kingdom, it turns out to be no easy thing. Every other proposal in this matter appears just another blot on the landscape, and sometimes, a great deal more dangerous. The present direction, in which our masters are apparently determined to take us, remains unpredictable and parsimonious. Of all the suggestions that have passed them by, water has had less than its fair share of attention. After all it is very clean and plentiful – 75% of the earth is covered with water - and to be fair, has had its moments, with both rivers and seas providing the potential for stable hydroelectric power - but the actual scale of man’s needs dwarf the infrastructure necessary to satisfy them. Therefore, turned out to be technically possible, but practically impossible.
No one actually welcomes a nuclear power station, acres of solar farms, or banks of waving windmills on their doorstep. In desperation the experts answer seems to be that ultimately a little bit of each will solve this grotesque distortion on the landscape, as though that will restore some sort of aesthetic equilibrium while making us completely energy efficient. Looking for an elusive sort of discreet consistency and harmony, they have suggested harnessing the movement of the sea, but cluttering up the coastline doesn’t get much of an encore either, as even tidal and wave movements, apparently, aren’t consistent enough to keep everyone’s light bulbs on.
The Italians, among others, are very keen on hydroelectric power plants, and they are very successful in this matter, having found ways to manipulate water a long time ago – Vitruvius, a first century Roman engineer, designed a water wheel that successfully watered the fields and provided energy to mill their grain. Today, ‘Entracque’ supply’s electrical power from its twin dams in Piedmont to nearly 200,000 homes. But such a method is not a realistic alternative for central Italy, as its northern geographical situation is unique. The magic ‘One size fits all’, proves illusive.
A new approach is obviously needed? But perhaps not altogether new. It might be no more than something that already exists, needing development. Even present right beneath our very feet. Given that this appears at first sight just as uninspiring, I suggest it’s that proverbial “Ugly Duckling” looking for some transformative water to sit on! Rivers you mean? No, that’s been tried, with the odd waterfall lending a hand. But water it most certainly is.
I have to be honest; I don’t know if what I’m going to suggest is the absolute answer to our problem, but given the present questionable projected direction of travel, I suggest worth considering. After all, an Italian local geothermic plant, has been around and functioning for one hundred and twelve years, so perhaps another look at its possibility might be politic.
Larderello, in Tuscany, close to Volterra, exploits geothermal energy – concrete cooling towers in some distant valley exude mysterious plumes of white steam. When one is in the vicinity, endless stainless-steel tubes traverse roads, and the adjacent area giving the impression of a scientific lunar park. No wonder it is known colloquially as “The Devil’s Valley”. Am I being serious? Tongue in cheek perhaps! You have to go out of your way to get close enough to comprehend the matter of its location, and supporting something that has the potential for a mini environmental disaster is not to be recommended. But, it is well to remember that Larderello is the product of history – the oldest geothermal plant in the world. Alright, originally it only lit a handful of light bulbs, but out of little things great things are born and now the plant produces 800mw and has 10,000 users proving the system works perfectly well. More importantly, it proved that such a method is scientifically viable. All the engineers and architects have to do now is miniaturise the method making it eco-friendly, thereby ticking all the right ecological boxes.
The modern projected system does not use fossil fuels to drive the turbine turning the generator, being a binary system of two parts – extraction and retraction. Basically, it extracts steam from deep within the earth to drive the turbines creating electricity, then returns the steam back again. A much more sophisticated version of this system uses fluids with a lower boiling point than the water, extracting steam to drive the turbines. In theory the ideal system could be reduced in size and located in a greater number of places without destroying the landscape as - with a discrete use of trees - very little visually of its presence would be seen.
Just think of the concept. The Earth is a fragment of the sun that has broken off, or been ejected, and is just as hot at its core, being about 9,392°Fahrenheit. When that heat finally splutters out in a billion years or so from now, the Earth will become a dead planet. At the moment this pent-up source of heat, hardly idle, is being wasted. Perhaps it might be politic to get a move on, by making better use of this energy now! Indeed, we’re very late for the bus. Countries as diverse as the United States, Indonesia, Iceland and the Philippines, have functioning geothermal systems supplying electricity.
Are there any factors that would limit its use? The earths crust is not a stable environment, as the heat source is at variable depths – some sites at 2.5 miles below the surface - so ideally, as extraction costs are also considerable, to be viable would need to be close to larger population areas with ‘stable’ environments. Given that virtually every town that fits this requirement uses in the order of 25mw, they might have their own miniaturised geothermal system, becoming a feeder to the surrounding countryside at the same time.
I’m glad to say that at last the United Kingdom has finally, begrudgingly, seen the potential for energy lying beneath their feet – the government granting permission for a test system in Cornwall, given that the geomorphology close to Redruth is ideal. Funding for the project being carried out by Geothermal Engineering Ltd. has been provided by the European Union, Cornwall and private investments. That is not a good mix politically, and demonstrates the short-sighted attitude of the present United Kingdom government.
In Cornwall the hot granite rocks are closer to the surface, and the concern over small earthquakes are therefore, less troubling – historically, six hundred of these natural quakes have been recorded in the area. As an illustration, Tuscany had a small quake in January this year - 4.3 on the Richter scale – considered as of no risk, the supposed bang at 06.30 in the morning, didn’t wake anyone up! Though Cornwall is not Tuscany, you can guarantee the protesters, having a vague excuse, will have a lot to say. Nevertheless, it is estimated that this small site will create, besides jobs, enough electricity for 9000 homes.
That is something the local population will surely welcome, acknowledging that- will it really matter so much - If the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow?
Note: Geothermic Larderello can be viewed, on the following links:
Larderello Museum link: