With the endless quest for cheap, clean, and plentiful sources of energy, some possible sources make use of natural phenomena including volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs, and others. Such energy sources provide large amounts of low cost power to serve local communities. Entire cities are beginning to benefit from energy from natural phenomena.
One city leading the charge is Chicago, which is moving toward powering all of its buildings and operations with 100 percent renewable energy by 2026. The sources of energy include solar, wind, and geothermal according to CDP.
In addition to Chicago, the state of Hawaii is a source of clean energy with its vast geothermal features. Geothermal sources of energy exist close to the surface in the state — part of why it has so many active volcanoes.
One project making use of geothermal sources is Puna Geothermal Venture (on Hawaii Island), a binary-cycle power plant that uses vapor to produce electricity. Its capacity is 38 MW and the aim is to increase this by 8 MW. Hawaii Island is one of the most volcanically active in Hawaii, part of why it’s a natural choice for geothermal energy.
Yet challenges exist with the Puna project. A blowout of toxic gas in 2013 and an eruption in 2018 forced Puna Geothermal Venture to close for two years.
It’s possible to generate geothermal energy just about anywhere if the right underlying geology exists — a heat source, a heat reservoir, a mitigation pathway — and Hawaiian Electric indicates a belief that geothermal sources exist in West Hawaii and Maui.
In fact, Hawaii has pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 70 percent before 2030. The benefits of geothermal energy are plentiful, including reducing heat and electricity prices, adding jobs, and more tax revenue from workers. Jobs came from many areas such as heavy equipment suppliers, drilling and well services, contractors to analyze resources, and various environmental services.
While numerous locations in the U.S. offer clean energy examples, other locations afar also offer good examples. Iceland is one of the most notable given it is well-known for having geothermal features such as hot springs and geysers popular with tourists. Thus, geothermal energy plays a role that’s a key to much of the country’s infrastructure and overall energy supplies. In 2020, a stunning 99.94 percent of Iceland’s electricity was generated with hydro and geothermal methods.
Much like Hawaii, the tourism aspect of Iceland should not be understated. It’s an example of a location that’s both extremely picturesque and a major geothermal energy producer.
One example of a location worth visiting is the Golden Circle Iceland from Reykjavik. The Golden Circle is easily accessible from Reykjavik and provides many sights worth seeing such as geysers, waterfalls, volcanic craters, lava fields, and geothermal pools.
The volcanic crater Kerið and the historic Bishop’s Skálholt are good priorities for a visit. The Nesjavellir power plant and the Hveragerdi greenhouse village are nearby. Many of these sights produce and harvest energy — making them a unique tourist attraction.
Another sight to see is Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the rift valley between Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The popular Geysir and Strokkur geysers produce eruptions every six to 10 minutes. The Gullfoss waterfall and the nearby Kerid Crater Lake — surrounded by striking red volcanic rock — are other energy-producing sights.
One of the most powerful and beautiful waterfalls in Iceland is Gullfoss flowing into Hvita, a great sight for river rafting. It’s about a ten-minute drive from Geysir.
Gulfoss was nearly lost in the 20th century because of efforts by British developers to capture its drive for hydroelectric power. However, the daughter of the landowner with a farm adjacent to the waterfall convinced the developers to withdraw their plans, preserving this popular tourist attraction without a developer interfering with it.
As noted above, Iceland is a location that’s both a tourism destination and a great producer of geothermal power. While places like Chicago and Hawaii might not be quite as picturesque, they will likely remain models to follow for other geothermal energy projects. The energy production from these and similar locations will likely continue to grow while remaining some of the most exciting tourist spots for years to come.