UNESCO Global Geoparks using the Earth’s heat
With continued population growth, the demand for affordable energy will also increase and the energy provided must now also be as low-carbon as possible. The Sustainable Development Goal 7 aims to expand infrastructure and upgrade technology to provide low-carbon and more efficient energy in all countries, encouraging economic growth and environmental protection.
With this in mind, all possible low-carbon energy sources must be considered. One of those is geothermal energy, the heat generated by the Earth’s hot interior that is stored in solid rocks and fluids beneath the surface. The use of geothermal energy is not new — humans have used hot springs and thermal pools for all purposes from cooking to therapy since pre-historic times.
More recently, and particularly in volcanically-active regions such as Iceland and the Azores archipelago, the heat generated by the Earth’s interior has been used to produce electricity and heat buildings. Some of those buildings are the UNESCO Global Geoparks headquarters of the Azores and Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geoparks.
In the Azores, the São Miguel and Terceira islands geothermal plants produce around 25% of the total energy produced in the region. This energy is fed into the grid and helps to power the geoparks facilities and inhabitant’s homes.
In Iceland, in the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark, HS ORKA, an independent power company operating almost exclusively on geothermal energy, is a partner of the geopark. The company, which produces over 174 MW of geothermal energy, created a hub for multiple companies to develop in the surroundings of its geothermal plants. In these hubs, companies such as the Blue Lagoon spa, cosmetics manufacturers, biotechnology companies and aquaculture businesses develop using the renewable power and sustainable effluents of the geothermal power plants. All within the area of the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark.
Deep-geothermal projects are also underway around the world to capture the warm fluids circulating at great depths within the Earth’s crust. These high temperature geothermal resources are exploited through deep wells (1-5 km) drilled in rock formations which hold hot fluids.
UNESCO supports a research project that promotes the use of geothermal resources as a clean, low-carbon, base-load, and renewable energy in South America. By collecting data and through numerical modelling, scientists from Colombia develop techniques to support geothermal resources management at the Nevada del Ruiz volcano, and evaluate public awareness and acceptance of geothermal energy. Ultimately this will produce a framework that can be used by developing countries to best harness their geothermal resources to provide essential power services. Learn more about this IGCP project here.