Is "volcano power" the answer we, and the planet, have been waiting for? Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government's clean energy company, seems to think so. For months the company's engineers have been drilling deep under Masdar City, the carbon-neutral development at the edge of the capital, in search of subterranean heat to help desalinate water and power the development's cooling systems.
If the effort is successful, Masdar will have a green alternative to solar power, which has been the major source of energy planned for the city so far. The drillers had reached a depth of 2,500 metres by the beginning of this month, a Masdar official said, and were looking to go as deep as 4,000m - more than the length of 34 football pitches. But globally, most geothermal efforts are likely to remain concentrated in countries with more active geology than Abu Dhabi; places where the Earth's heat billows up to the surface and makes it more cost-competitive with conventional sources of energy.
In environments such as Iceland, Indonesia and parts of the US, electricity from geothermal sources is sometimes already competitive with fossil fuels. Iceland, one of the most volcanically active countries in the world, already obtains a quarter of its electricity and nearly all its heating needs from geothermal plants. Its resource is so abundant that it has lured power-hungry aluminium smelters to its shores with the promise of cheap, limitless energy.
Aluminium producers use 2 per cent of the world's total electricity and contribute greatly to greenhouse gas emissions. If those Icelandic plants displace older smelters overseas using electricity from coal, geothermal energy will make its greatest contribution to the betterment of the planet. firstname.lastname@example.org