Could Volcanoes be the Next Big Source for Keeping Energy Costs Low?

Sep 22, 2015 12:38:00 PM by NuEnergen

volcano energyAs the old adage goes, "If you have lemons, make lemonade." The eastern Caribbean island of Montserrat seems to be taking this sentiment to heart. Throughout the years, Montserrat has suffered gravely from natural disasters. Back in 1989, more than 90% of the island's structures were damaged after Hurricane Hugo raged through. Less than a decade later (in 1995), the Soufriere Hills volcano awoke from its dormant slumber, bursting into cyclic eruptive activity that has continued to the present day. At the time, 19 were killed and two-thirds of the island was rendered uninhabitable. Two years later, the volcano buried the capital city of Plymouth in meters of volcanic debris such as rock, ash, and bud. Still struggling to see the positive side of this? Believe it or not, Montserrat has found it.

Making the Best out of Soufriere Hills

Once viewed as a hotbed for disaster, the affectionally termed "Emerald Isle" of the Caribbean is actually well poised to become one of the world's few and only "green", sustainable islands. The key to all of this is the same geological forces that have been unleashed by the Soufriere Hills volcano time and again -- this time for powering the island's electricity grid via a geothermal source. What was once believe to be nothing more than a devastating force of wreckage could transform Montserrat for the better.

Understanding Geothermal Energy

As the name indicates, geothermal energy involves the productive use of thermal energy located within the earth's crust. It is recognized as one of the only renewable, low-carbon emission energy sources that has the ability to consistently dole out power 24/7, regardless of the season or elements. This is because its primary limitation has nothing to do with weather at all, but rather with location. It can only be exploited in areas with a very specific geology -- areas where the planet's intense heat approaches close enough to the surface to be useful to us. Enter: Montserrat.

Montserrat's Unique Geological Properties

Montserrat is an ideal candidate for geothermal energy use. On the island, hot molten magma is able to rise to very shallow depths as it is driven by the forces of plate tectonics. The hot magma warms the neighboring rocks and thus generates a heat source that can easily be tapped if it can be brought up to the surface. Rainwater and seawater both work to assist in this process each time they penetrate the cracks and pores in rocks. From here, it descends several kilometers beneath the island, absorbs heat, and then, buoyant, rises to shallow levels, where it's tapped by drilling wells. The pressurized steam heat produced rotates turbines and generates electricity.

Much work and careful study went into plotting the island's geothermal drilling program. An array of technologies, including magnetotellurics, were used to gain a complete understanding of the rocks beneath the surface. It was only then that the process of drilling Emerald Isle's first two wells began in 2013.  Upon completion, this power station will have the ability to generate more power than is actually needed by Montserrat's population, freeing it from any reliance on diesel-power generators for electricity -- one of the most expensive electricity sources in the world. 

Montserrat can act as a positive example to other nations throughout the world with similar geothermal aspirations and ideal geological conditions for achieving their goals. It's an exciting time for geothermal energy, and you should keep your ears perked up for advancements in these areas across the globe.

With the energy landscape changing constantly, it's important to remain "in the know." Contact our team of experts at NuEnergen for valuable insights.