The curious case about seemingly endless energy

The most powerful geothermal well so far, the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project. Photograph borrowed from the Mannvit engineering company.

How’s that for a humdinger of a clickbait headline?

As clickbaity as it might seem, it is still true, but I freely admit that it comes with a couple of hippopotamus sized caveats.

Firstly, I should probably state that this article is about geology, geophysics and tectonic plates, and not as such about volcanoes, I do though hope that you my beloved reader will accept this little digression of mine.

Secondly, I should point out that I am a geophysicist working with volcanoes for a day job, specifically in regards of geothermal energy. For the last decade and a half, I have written dry reports to governments about the wonders of drilling large holes into volcanoes to extract energy.

It will probably not surprise anyone that governments enjoy dry reports, but not so much coughing up the money to build modern geothermal plants.


The background

Geothermal Power Plant at Krafla Volcano in Iceland, the beautiful picture is borrowed from Wikimedia and was taken by Ásgeir Eggertsson.

Normal bog-standard geothermal energy comes in three distinct flavours of extraction, the most common is when a household drill a shallow borehole in their garden to extract heat out of the ground. This is quite common in the northern part of the world, well at least in Sweden.

The next one is drilling into a geothermal field to extract hot water or steam for space heating and electricity production. Depending on the size of the field and your ambition you can extract anything from a few kilowatts to a few hundred megawatts.

This is done by using drilling techniques developed at the end of the 19th century during the initial oil-boom in the United States. In other words, a shallow hole, straight down to shallow or intermediate depth.

So far, the available extracted energy is depressingly limited.

The third version is far more exciting, and that is to drill into, or next to, a magma reservoir in an active volcano. This has already been done by the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project, and there is at least one large scale power-plant being in the permitting stage using this technique (caveat is here applied, I am involved in that one).

If you look at the drilling side, we are now well into the state-of-the-art techniques developed by the oil and gas industry during the last 100 years or so.

This form of geothermal energy will transform volcano rich countries and has the potential of solving roughly ten percent of the worlds current electricity needs in a sustainable and renewable way. Problem is that it is just not enough.

To meet the Paris Agreement, we need to replace all electricity produced by coal, gas, and oil-powered plants. And that is a whopping 61 percent to replace.

To compound the problem, if we all are good little ecological people and go electric when driving, then we need a further 36 percent more electricity than what is currently produced in the world.

On top of that the worlds electricity consumption is increasing with 5 percent per year as the developing world is catching up to the industrialized part of the world.

The ten percent that classical, and not so classical, geothermal energy can produce is now at best a partial solution of the problem.

Even with all the current hydropower electricity in the world, and a monster-sized expansion of wind and solar-power, it is not enough. Grid-storage and smart-grids are also only partial solutions to the problem.

Even with all these good and nice solutions we do not reach the target, we already notice this as rising electricity prices across Europe and the United States, and those prices will skyrocket in the next couple of decades.

Now some will jump up out of their chairs and scream “NUCLEAR!” But before you do that, please explain first how we will pay the 13 trillion (and counting) dollar bill that we have already accrued to clean up the mess that it has already produced. You can’t? Well, I sure as heck can’t either, so sit down and we will continue with geothermal energy which is what this article is all about.


The fourth way

This drillbit is all that remains from the record-breaking Bertha Rogers Hole. The drill-bit is to date the deepest drillbit fished out of a hole. I borrowed this picture from the East Texas Oil Museum.

In 1974 the Lone Star Production Company drilled the 1-27 Bertha Rogers Hole in Washita County, Oklahoma. At 9 583 meters depth they had not found any hydrocarbons, instead they hit molten sulphur that solidified around the drill-bit and the drill-pipe twisted off.

This borehole, and not Operation Mohole, set off a “drilling into the crust cold-war race”. Enter the Soviet Union and their Kol’skaya sverkhglubokaya skvazhina SG-3, more commonly known as the Kola Superdeep Borehole.

At 12 262 metres depth the (by now) Russians ran out of money, and the project was permanently shut down in 1994.

In 1987 Germany got into the drilling-race and the German Continental Drilling Program succeeded with a 9101-meter-deep hole into the ground.

As with all other cold war projects it was a game of brinkmanship, with just a thin wail of science draped on top to make it seem less ridiculous, at no point was geothermal energy a part of the equation.

There was thought heaps of data collected, and in that data, we find a couple of nice nuggets of golden information. In fact, they solved our electricity crisis without even realising it, or even caring about any future use of the collected information.


Crustal geothermal energy

Drill-tower from the Kola Superdeep Hole. Picture taken by Andre Belozeroff, and is borrowed from WikiMedia Commons.

For geothermal energy to work you need a surprisingly small temperature differential if you are just planning to warm up your house via a heat-exchanger.

If you wish to produce electricity more heat is definitely better. The gold standard is the temperature for dry steam found at a minimum of 275 Celsius at a pressure of 59.6 Bar. If the temperature is lower the steam will contain water-droplets that will damage the turbine-blades, and instead one must use either steam-cleaners or heat-converters and a lower-temperature superheated steam agent like ammonia. For any itinerant engineers, I know that I simplified this a lot, you guys aren’t the target audience in this context.

Bertha Rogers was drilled by oil-well roughneck’s working on a budget, so they did not write down long-winded reports about their findings, the just wanted black stuff to squirt out of the ground. Regardless, we still get a couple of nuggets out of them.

The first of those nuggets is that the absolute minimum temperature in the borehole at 9 583 metres was 115.2 Celsius, it was probably higher than that, but we only know that the sulphur was molten. They never wrote down the actual temperature to my utter dismay.

The second nugget is that they proved that even with the simpler technology of the 1970s it was feasible to drill that deep on a budget that would be reasonable if you are intending to drill many holes at the same place.

The budgeting issue will become important as a comparison to the next two boreholes.

The Kola Superdeep Borehole had no budget, instead the Soviet Union poured money into it, developing new methods of drilling, new record-breaking drill-rigs, and the cost in the end helped to ruin them (together with the arms race, mismanagement, the space race, and so on).

The Soviet Union never stated the cost for drilling the hole, but it was to all points and purposes mind-boggling.

Another thing to remember here is that the intent of drilling into the dense and cold Baltic Shield was to not get heat-problems while drilling. For geothermal purposes this was a nightmare place to drill into.

We did though get loads of geologic knowledge for the money, for instance the believed transition point at 7km from granite to basalt turned out to not be true, instead it was found to be metamorphic granite causing an inversion.

We also learned that the rock beyond this point was thoroughly fractured and permeated with water causing the rock to behave in a plastic fashion. We also learned about microscopic plankton fossils at the depth of 6km.

But the important part in regards of geothermal energy is that the temperature gradient was different than expected. It was expected that the coldest piece of crust known to mankind would be 100 Celsius at 12 kilometres depth, instead the readily available deep water was 180 Celsius.

At those pressure that temperature equates to 5MW of extractable energy. As a single 12km deep hole that is obviously not economically feasible even on the stingiest oil-drilling budget, but it is extremely interesting none the less, since it is a worst-case scenario.


The Hole of Germany

Drilltower at the Hole of Germany at the easy to pronounce Windischeneschenbach. Photography borrowed from Wikimedia Commons, taken by JW Pilsak.

If we now move onwards to the Hole of Germany, officially known as the German Continental Deep Drilling Program at Windischeschenbach, we find the same fractured plastic geology permeated by hot water. Here we do know the cost, an eye-watering amount of 270 million Euro in 1987 value.

There they also tried to push in additional water into the rock, and it was found that it was possible to inject large quantities of water without losing well-integrity.

Before drilling the Germans constructed a drill-bit able to survive temperatures up to 300 Celsius, a temperature that was expected at depths of 10 to 14km. Instead, they found that temperature to be exceeded at 9.1km depth.

In geothermal terms they produced a well able to produce sustainably produce 12MW of electricity. That is borderline feasible on the famously stingy oil-drilling budget for a single well.


A thought experiment

Let us now formulate a hypothetic story. One morning Vladimir Putin wakes up after having nightmares about global warming. Covered in cold sweat from his nightmare he decides to solve this problem once and for all with geothermal energy.

He then picks up the phone and orders Gazprom to drill a geothermal well for every single square kilometre of Russia. For good measure he explains that if they do not comply, he will Putinate all of them. Happily having solved the problem he goes back to a restful sleep filled with far nicer dreams about the upcoming Russian Electricity-dominated world.

As ludicrous as this idea might seem we should do the math of this insanity to see if it would solve the problem, let us not bother about pesky economics at this stage though.

Let us here assume that Russia is as uniformly cold underground as the Baltic shield is on the Kola Peninsula.

First of all, Russia is big, 17.13 million square kilometres big. At 5MW per square kilometre this equates to 85 650 000MW, or 85 650GW, or 85.65TW. The combined production of electricity in the world is currently roughly 28TW.

Dang, did our hypothetical Putin just save the world with ample margin to spare? Yes and no, and at the same time.

You would obviously need 85 million 5MW power-plants, and the grid-infrastructure to connect all of them. The cost for all of that would be so high that no feasible electricity price would ever merit that, not even if governments subsidized this loony idea.


Making a more feasible case

Let us now try to make economically viable case of Kola-holes. After all, the hypothetical people at Gazprom are the best in the world at drilling oil and gas-wells on a budget, and they learned heaps of stuff from the original Kola-hole.

First, they would use multi-pad drilling. This is when you drill several boreholes tightly together from the same derrick-pad. They would probably spud up to 8 boreholes without the extremely costly dismantling, moving, and then rebuilding the derrick for each hole.

These boreholes would then be made to drift outwards at an angle from each other to increase the uptake area of energy. A single hole would be 30-40 million Euro, with the multi-pad system we are now down to 20-25 million Euro per borehole.

Our hypothetical skilled Russians would now pull out the mother of all neat drilling-tricks. They would use each of the 8 boreholes as a parent-borehole down to 8km depth, from there they would split drill 3 side-holes from the parent-borehole, giving 4 extraction-wells per each of the eight surface boreholes on the pad. The deft Russians have now 32 wells on hand giving 20MW per parent-borehole, while at the same time having saved 24 kilometres of drilling for the same effect. By now each well is well below 15 million Euro.

Here economy of scale kicks in as they build a 160MW power-plant requiring a single grid-link instead of 32.

Even at this point it would require an extreme price per kWh for it to be feasible, or that a government would subsidize the project, but it is not impossibly far out if the alternative is all of us dying from the effects of global warming.

But the salient point here is that the Kola Superdeep Borehole was drilled at the worst possible place, at all other spots on earth you would either need to drill less deep, get more heat, or both improvements at the same time.

Even if we would cherry pick places with drilling depths of “only” 7km with the ability of producing supercritical fluid out of water (373 Celsius at 220 Bars), we would still have enough places to extract from to be economically viable at a cost of less than 10 Eurocent per kWh. Obviously the hotter and shorter the better.

And, if we run out of suitable continental crust, we can nick yet another trick from the rulebook written by oil-industry and go out into the much thinner oceanic crust.


Fringe benefits

Under this rusted steel plate lies one of the most important things on the planet, the Kola Superdeep Borehole. The birthplace of seemingly free and endless energy.
To me it is a very beautiful thing, but I guess not to that many others.
Photograph from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Rakot13.

There is yet another nugget hidden in the remnants of our three example boreholes. As they drilled the deeper parts of the boreholes, they noticed curious bubbling in the drill mud used as it was pushed up. At the Kola site they noted that it was so strong that it behaved like it was boiling.

At both the Kola site and at the Hole of Germany they duly tested the bubbly stuff and found that it was hydrogen that was bubbling up. At the site for the Bertha Rogers Hole, they just noted that the bubbly stuff burned, but was not useful methane, it is though quite likely to have been hydrogen since it did indeed burn.

At no site there was any excitement about the hydrogen, no particular follow-up research was done, and to this day we do not know what processes at such great depth produces hydrogen. After all, it was not the holy oil that was discovered, so why would they be interested?

Several decades later it is easy to scream out of frustration at the wasted opportunity for research into one of todays most promising energy sources.

Saving the planet is filled with these small little oversights.



No single solution will ever be able to solve our looming energy crisis. Instead, the solution is to be found in many different solutions, that if combined efficiently solves the problem.

In reality the answer is simple and complex at the same time. We need smart grids, grid-storage, solar-power, wind-power, hydropower and geothermal-power.

Of the options above, geothermal power is the best partner to wind and solar in roughly half of the world, and often in parts of the world struggling with getting enough electricity as it is. It is a technology that has the potential to change the world economy in the same way that oil did back in the day, but without destroying the planet while at it.



672 thoughts on “The curious case about seemingly endless energy

  1. Kola drilled into a Craton then …that are thickest near Moscow and Finland

    South West Sweden haves relativly thin continental litosphere, I read about earlier projects of geothermal energy in Skåne .. but haves No Idea If they will become reality

    • It is a bit of a language thing, I am used to writing mW for both milli-Watt and mega-Watt, it is the correct way in my language. If you do not get which one from the context, then stay away from electricity please 😉

    • I have the same confusion. The giga and tera should also be written in capitals. (MW, GW, TW). I can’t imagine a mW borehole being viable, though.

  2. “Putinate”. Thank you for that linguistic gem, Carl 🙂
    And thank you for a thoroughly fascinating article, too!

  3. Carl, just to be clear mW is actually milliwatts and I suspect you meant MW or megawatts although I would have guessed kW depending.

    I will read on …..

    • It is a bit of a language thing, I am used to writing mW for both milli-Watt and mega-Watt, it is the correct way in my language. If you do not get which one from the context, then stay away from electricity please 😉

      • It’s still incorrect.

        As a professional engineer I regularly have to correct people for using mS (millisiemens) when they meant to write ms (milliseconds) – the context is obvious there too. At least you capitalised the unit correctly! Additionally, gigawatt (GW) and terawatt (TW) are also incorrect.

        Writing (mW) milliwatts when you meant (MW) megawatts isn’t that much better and in certain scenarios could be fairly disastrous. Ordering a 1 mW transformer when you meant a 1 MW might not achieve the project aims (and vice-versa would be an expensive mistake).

        Yes, it is obvious from the context which one it should be. But, poorly defined requirements causing confusion and assumption are one of the greatest causes of project failure (together with complexity and lack of configuration control). But this is a blog, not a technical report.

        Back to lurking on this excellent blog.

        • It doesn’t help that terminology is often changed. It took me a year to get from the K-T event to the K-Pg- event, Paleogen instead of K for Cretacious and I still prefer the older one, the same with Ma instead of Mya. The new one basically isn’t correct from the point of view of grammar. The old one said million years ago. The new one is basically million ago. What million? Million seconds?
          Same in other fields. So I don’t care whether Carl uses capital letters or not. The context is important.
          Changomania. Hard to keep track.

      • Come on, Carl. We have standardized abbreviations in science for a good reason. I would not appreciate my doctor or pharmacist telling me, “If you can’t tell if you are supposed to be taking milli-gram or mega-gram doses of digitalis from context, then stay away from therapeutics.”

  4. Iceland: Fagradalir. Seismic activity creeping up, and some rumbly drumplots.
    However, inclement weather in Iceland today could be the main cause so far (the photo does not do justice to the wind)!
    But perhaps worth monitoring to see if the giant reawakens.

    • As someone noted earlier today, FAF’s hrauns in fact aren’t covered by snow. Why is that?
      I thought cool lava was supposed to insulate particularly well?

      • The temperature potential is just to great, it took 2 full winters before Holuhraun even began to snow over…

  5. The thing that has baffled me is that this energy is finite. Doing the sums ‘on the fly’ (and thus error prone to 3 orders):

    Assuming we take a block of rock say 5km deep and 1 km on a square and assign it a temperature of 200C and allow (for simplicity) a useable drop of 100C that’s 5 (km)^3 or 5Gm^3 weighing perhaps 10GT or 10Tkg. Allowing a specific heat of 0.5 kJ/kg-C we get 50kJ/kg at delta 100C delivering 500PJ total for the block.
    Now 1 kWh = 3.6 MJ, 1GWh= 3.6 TJ, 1TWh = 3.6PJ.
    So this block gives circa 100 TWh or about 10 GW-yrs.
    Allowing it would not be run a full power all the time that infrastructure at 50% peak utilisation would last about 20 years.
    Your 32 wells at 15ME or 500ME (perhaps double that for plant and infrastructure) or 1GE (E=euro) puts a cost of 0.0001E per kWh. Hmm OK, where did I make a mistake?

    • Spotted it. 100TWh is 100G (kWh) but that’s still only 0.1E/kWh.

    • In the end you came to my figure of 0.1€. Good that you spotted the mistake. 🙂

      • in essence that means continually emplacing new geothermal sources to cover the depleted ones forever, the recharge rate will be measured in millennia but there again we have a lot of sq km per country. I suspect your costs are out by a factor of 10 until the first 20 have been built.
        I can see no good reason why the power plants cannot be re-useable and re-sitable (after reconditioning).
        Some places will have very much higher thermal delivery, others will be uneconomic.
        So the UK needs about 1600TWh/annum for true carbon zero, if each block delivers 10TWh/annum that’s only 160 blocks of 1km square. Sh+t, that’s doable even if the figures are a tad wonky, we need about 16 new plants/year to keep up. With 250,000 sq km it will be a while before we run short.
        I would hope an electricity cost of circa 20p/kWh would be (eventually) obtainable, and this means ZERO use of fossil fuel. What’s more there isn’t even a problem with storage, the power is on tap!
        Bleedin ada!

        • Actually, the 0.1€ per kW/h is correct (even a tad high at that) for a plant that is direct crustal. The figure comes out of a rather massive study done in one of the dry reports I mentioned in the article.

          If you instead go for more easily available energy with a higher temperature, than you have a massive case for geothermal energy that is quite competitive with any other production means. Then the cost tupically drops to 0.018€kW/h.

          • Do we have maps for each country, well particularly europe, showing the high and medium heat supply at modest depths?

          • Yes and no, for some areas of Europe we do, and for others we do not.

            And let me be crystal clear here, nobody was even pondering producing electricity from crustal geothermal energy until quite recently (like the last few months).
            The reason for this is that neither the political will, nor the funding, has previously existed.
            The skyrocketing electricity prices are driving this innovative field into motion as we are typing here.

            I would also like to point out that the entire idea is basically my own brain-child.

          • I pray you are not out in your frilling and extraction rates and energy supply rates because a factor of two (or ten) would really screw the economics up.
            The drilling tech is the biggest problem because I just have to take your word for it.

          • The drilling tech is actually bog standard for the oil-industry, they in turn nicked it from what was done by the Soviets at Kola Superdeep.
            So, this is off the shelf technology by now.

      • The flaw is probably that pretty soon you only get a low level of output (but for decades) because rock is a good insulator and you only have 32 pipes which is less than 6 a side over 1km, ie spaced about 170m apart.
        Hmm, dunno, that may be close enough for 20 year life.
        Irritatingly you seem to have done your sums.

        • Well, irritatingly this is my actual job to get the sums correct. 😉

          • Indeed so, however in the area of green energy its rare to find figures that I can make add up any sense. Indeed this is a first.
            So sadly your results have to compete against less solidly based proposals that claim the earth on essentially fake figures.
            Which is a pity.

          • On this I wholeheartedly agree with you.

            Castles made out of hot air will not save us, I much prefer hard cold facts so that I can prove to the investors that their hard earned billions will give dividends. And they tend to be really good at numbers, so one digit wrong and you will get no investments.

  6. Still, at present China is burning nearly 4bn tonnes of coal a year and that’s just for electricity, never mind the coking coal used for steel production. Cunningly they are using the coal-fired electricity and the coal-fired steel to produce solar panels and wind turbine bases which the rest of the world buy, so as not to use coal!

    While there’s a real geothermal person posting, what does Carl make of the UK plan to make all new homes after 2025 heated by heat pumps.

    Air source pumps are pretty poor in frosty days when you need them. But ground source pumps will need pipes full of antifreeze drilled hundreds of feet into the ground (UK homes have tiny gardens so shallow horizontal pipes impossble).

    I’m not sure there are enough geologists or drill rigs in the UK. What do you think?

    • I am not sure what the table is showing.

      China has actually made a lot of progress. Five years ago, pollution from coal burning in Beijing was terrible. It has become much better. But elsewhere in China the growth is powered by coal, and the national government has surprisingly little power over this. In principle there is enough renewable energy in China available, and solar power in the west could in principle provide power to much of the nation. But the country lacks the electricity network to transport that much power. As for the UK, building standards are very low compared to elsewhere in Europe. Heat pumps work best in an insulated house and insulation has not been a priority in the UK. Making building companies legally responsible for their end product would be a start. The cladding scandal shows that currently they are not, and as long as that is the case they have no reason to build better.

      • “China has actually made a lot of progress. Five years ago, pollution from coal burning in Beijing was terrible.”

        That’s very good if you live in Beijing, but for the rest of the world China’s emissions are only going one way. I don’t call that progress.

        This news item is 5 days old.

        “China plans to build more coal-fired power plants and has hinted that it will rethink its timetable to slash emissions, in a significant blow to the UK’s ambitions for securing a global agreement on phasing out coal at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.

        “Energy security should be the premise on which a modern energy system is built and and the capacity for energy self-supply should be enhanced,” the statement said.

        “Given the predominant place of coal in the country’s energy and resource endowment, it is important to optimise the layout for the coal production capacity, build advanced coal-fired power plants as appropriate in line with development needs, and continue to phase out outdated coal plants in an orderly fashion. Domestic oil and gas exploration will be intensified.””

        • We certainly have major problems to solve and China is a big part of the problem. But also give credit where it is due. Coal production in China has been almost constant for the past ten years, a sudden change from the rapid growth before. You say it is going ‘one way’ but that way is flat. (So now they do plan for an increase.) They also produce a third of all renewable energy in the world, and that is increasing by 10% per year. It is a small fraction of their total (about 1/5th of China’s electricity comes from renewables plus nuclear), but it is going one way, and that is up. The west has replaced or is replacing coal by gas, much better for the climate but not a long-term solution: we can hardly criticise China for doing the same. (They can be criticised for taking it from areas they don’t actually own.) (In the US, Trump tried to push coal and failed – production still went down, which shows the way the economy is going even when politics tries to do otherwise.) I am perhaps more concerned about India, which shows what may happen in Africa.

          I do feel, however (and have said so here before), that renewables can only work when combined with energy efficiency. We have a long way to go on that.

    • Albert have answered the rest, so I will do the geothermal part.

      Obviously you can’t do it on a “by the house” scale. That would be ludicruous even on the Johnson-scale (vegan-sausages and all).

      So, let us stay with what is realistic and is actually in the pipeline of being built.
      Here is more like what is proposed and actually being built right now in the UK:

      • I am sorry, but we really needed to watch some geothermal-erotic movies in here… 😉

        Jokes aside, the video also amply shows what is meant with new jobs in the green energy sector.

      • This, though is futureware. Its a demo and frankly not commercial. Playing at being good boys.
        A well with 32 deep lines in 1 km square as a demo would be a good start, even though the cost would be immense for this first one. After that each would be increasingly cheaper.
        We do not have time to piddle about with feelgood trite.

        • I do not fully agree with you here.
          Yes, it is feelgoody and not big enough.
          But, at the same time it is a darn good showcase for people who are afraid of this technology, and that is important since we all need to not be regulated out of business.
          It is also a fairly good test-run.

          And I like your tally-hoo attaboy attitude towards my proposal for a larger site. 🙂

    • IIRC, the Chinese have had a justifiable panic over their ominously diverging power generation vs power usage projections.

      Brown-coal is far more trouble than it is worth, both environmentally and politically. Fusion refuses to play by ‘Five Year Plans’. Bit-coin mining power consumption was increasing exponentially, hence the hasty cut-back.

      Pumping requirements for the grand irrigation projects are estimated as ‘vast’. IMHO, unless they’ve cracked fusion, they’ll need wind & solar farms for most of those canals’ length. Hey, economies of scale, but…

      ‘Elephant in Bathtub’ is the vulnerability of their vast hydro-dams. Not only do they and their power-lines stand hostage to sabotage, but geological instability may wreak havoc.

      Worst-case scenario is a Himalayan quake breaching a near-full up-stream dam, either directly or by ‘tsunami’ slosh from a mega-rock-fall. Flow reaches next near-full dam, possibly damaged by same quake, over-tops. Rinse & Repeat. Dire Domino failure ensues…

      IIRC, the ‘3 Gorges’ and other mega-dams were warily ‘overbuilt’ against tectonic oopsies, have a *lot* of spill-ways against such a flood scenario. But Dire Lord Murphy will so find unexpected loopholes in such modelling…
      Be NOT There…

      • Should mention that this has happened multiple times throughout history, in fact China has been hit the hardest of any country from earthquakes, landslides, famines etc.

        Since 1500s, some 100 million from various natural disasters and famines have died. That doesn’t even include the 20-40 million that died at the hands of the Japanese.

        • I think this might be the oddest argument in favour of nuclear power to date that I have seen.

          I do though concede the point that nuclear power has not killed as many people as the Japanese occupation of China did.

          Calculating nuclear accident deaths is a bit tricky, and will yield different results depending the way you calculate and what you factor into your equation. A strict interpretation of direct deaths is as low as 20 000, and with probable nucleogenic cancers counted in you end up at around 2 million deaths.
          This uncertainty in the numbers is why I am not arguing against nuclear power on the death toll, and instead argue the cost of the cleanup and the cost for longterm storage (yet unsolved).

  7. Interesting article, but you are missing nuclear from the equation.
    We may get there with all the other solutions but rather think its going to bankrupt us in the process.

    • Sorry to kill your darling.
      Nuclear power is the most expensive to build form of electricity powerplant per kilowatt generated. On top of that it is the most expensive to run.
      And if we factor in the cost of taking care of the waste, then there has never been a single nuclear kilowatt sold without a loss.
      Every single kilowatt so far has been subsidised by one government or another.

      Nuclear power is a 75 year old dud that people keep on flogging.

      And let us not get into the statistics of their safety, one nuclear meltdown every decade so far, and the problem is accelerating.

      Let us produce cheap and safe electricity instead. 🙂

      • Carl, sorry to disagree with you on nuclear power. Global heating because of fossile combustion kills more than the few nu lear incidents you report. One single tropical storm like katrina has made more victims than all nuclear incidents combimed. And there are tens of big storm every year and they will onle become more severe. The investment price is indeed high for a nuclear plant, but i doubt your cost per kilowatt analyses some are running for 50 years. And i invite you to check about the newest generations powerplant which are cooled with salts and not under pressure with no risk of explosions or meltdown. They can either run on thorium or nuclear residu from old nuclear plants, which reduces the nuclear waste.

        • Hello Mick!

          Yes, you are correct that the global warming is killing more people currently than nuclear.
          But, why not use something that is safer, and at the same time more economical.
          Nuclear is just Coal 2.0 in this respect, except that coal is more economical (and no, I am not advocating coal, far from it).

          I used to work in the nuclear industry. I know the numbers, and they are also freely available if you wish to compare the production cost for various types of electricity generation.

          Almost all forms of electricity generation have a longer duration than nuclear plants, with the caveat that the end numbers are not in for wind and solar yet. But for instance geothermal and hydropower have typical lifespan of 50 to 150 years.

          Sadly the new types are vapourware at this stage. I prefer cheap off the shelf technology when solving a problem when I only have a decade or so to do it. 🙂

        • Great point and valid. Nuclear incidents have killed few. 15.000 people have been killed by a tsunami as a follow-up of a deep sea earth quake, next to no one – although we do not know this precisely – by the incident in the plant.

      • Nuclear waste is not a problem. Many suitable sites for high level waste. The amounts are tiny.
        No political will though.
        Ideally in tunnels west of sellafield under the lake district. Stable, solid and secure.
        Politically unacceptable though, like most energy supplies. These are best done out of sight and out of mind. Anything else disturbs the ecofreaks who want free power, cheap food and everything ‘natural’.
        They will get what they deserve.

        • I do disagree here.
          The lake district is filled with faults.

          The Finns did a stab at it, they went for purposebuilt into the most stable bedrock on Earth. They poured money into it, and they themselves give it 1000 years before it starts leaking.
          This is the reason we gave up in Sweden on storage, we have the same solid rock, but we want at least 10 000 years before leakage.

          We are not even remotely close to being able to solve this problem with the current technology that we posses.

  8. In Finland, a commercial company is in an advanced stage in building a deep geothermal heat plant. Google “Otaniemi geothermal heating plant”. They have already drilled 6,5 km deep holes into bedrock and carried out some fracking-like tasks to connect the holes.

    • It is indeed a very interesting project.
      Just to make it clear for everyone else, this is a geothermal Heating plant and not a geothermal Electricity plant.

  9. Carl, good to learn you found a position related to your geology background.

    Is the effect of harvesting the geothermal energy at the proposed scale studied?
    What about simple thermal expansion?

    I Belgium some experiments have resulted in small earthquakes.

    • Thank you Gwen!

      You asked the question that really needs a good answer.
      If you ask an Icelandic colleague, it will just shrug it’s shoulders and answer “Yes!” and move on in life.
      All the others will just go “hem” and be mum and move on talking about something else.

      The answer is in reality quite complex, and deserves a far more detailed answer than I can give in a few lines as an answer to a comment.
      So, I will do an entire article on the subject. Expect it up in 2 weeks. Because there should be a good and honest answer that explains this issue out on the internet.

      • Ta, my next comment.
        Generally I am with the icelanders.
        Do you want to save the environment or have it crash?
        Your choice, you cannot have both, sorry.
        Looking forward to article.

  10. Serpentization of mafic rocks is exothermic and produces hydrogen methane ethane etc. Wondering if hydrogen noted in these deep wells was a result of the process. I have witnessed first hand very significant gas flow from wells drilled in layered mafic intrusions that were partially serpentinized. Quite a surprise for the drillers.

    • Hello Arw!

      You are probably on to something here, but I must admit to not being a very good geologist as it comes down to the weird stuff that rocks do to each other underground (well, at least unless it is magma, I am fairly solid on magma). 🙂

  11. Earthquakes are now only 1.2km below the surface at 2.4km SW of Keilir.

    Seems to be closer and closer to a new vent opening. A bit later than I thought though.

    • Here are the recent quakes. I’m not sure if we can see a clear pattern.

      Except for the unicorn pattern if you close your eyes halfway…

      • Here are the verified earthquakes near Keilir of the last 3 weeks, colored according to magnitude

  12. propaganda article… obsolete sciences, obsolete phisics… world rulers don’t want an independent humanity. So humanity must have only obsolete sciences… humanity must depend on rulers for any necessary service. Propaganda is necessary to justify the premeditated hell that is coming.

      • Proof:

        The unicorn is obvious. But scientists still struggle to explain the pattern on the bottom left.

        • Unicorn poop.

          And you didn’t need to be a scientist to predict someone was going to say that.

    • As you are not actually saying anything, it is difficult to make sense of it. It seems you are arguing against physics?

    • I agree with your statement 100%, as our small group had created a small energy generating unit, non-polluting, which we intended to be sold in the large chains like Target or Walmart before anyone caught on to what was really going on. Our test unit #3 created about 6 kW. Science is being deliberately suppressed. Too bad our CTO made a fatal mistake and used all the investor funds before we could go public.

  13. > Now some will jump up out of their chairs and scream “NUCLEAR!” But before you do that, please explain first how we will pay the 13 trillion (and counting) dollar bill that we have already accrued to clean up the mess that it has already produced. You can’t? Well, I sure as heck can’t either, so sit down and we will continue with geothermal energy which is what this article is all about.

    This is an extremely intellectually dishonest way of saying “you are right, but I don’t want to talk about this because I’m into geothermal energy”. Not that there aren’t important advantages to geothermal energy, but putting something like this in your article makes everything that follows wortheless.

    • Well, I would kindly disagree.
      And I do note that you are not giving a solution to the problem that I pointed out.
      The problem is highly valid, as you well know.
      It is also something that we do need to fix in the end.

      Let us just discuss a single place, the Hanford Site.
      “The report put remaining cleanup costs at $323.2 billion at best. At worst it could be $677 billion.”
      This is obviously on top of the $170 billion already spent since 1989. And the time needed for the cleanup is now estimated to run into 2078.
      And this is just one of all the numerous sites in need of cleanup. Obviously the most expensive will be the Shinkolobwe mine in Congo. (famously where North Korea got their Uranium)
      Dishonest? Well, I think not.

      Read more at:

  14. Looking at the differing and changing outputs from the two most easterly vents, one minute thick black smoke, a minute later pure white steam, got me wondering about the hydrology of the island.

    I remember on Stromboli there was only a single spring marked on the map, and tankers brought in water.

    “Nearly all of the water on the island is obtained from the mar de nubes (sea of clouds) that get carried on the prevailing wind, which blows from the northeast trade winds. The water condenses on the long pine needles of the trees on the mountain and drips down to the ground, where it disappears into the depths of the earth. Some of this water comes out from the ground in the form of small streams or waterfalls, but most of it seeps into the sea, effectively being lost.

    To harness this precious precipitation, locals cut long tunnels into the rock, catching some of the water that drenches the mountain. This method is effective because it can take years for the water to seep down the mountain completely, meaning that the inside of the mountain is generally always wet, even during droughts. Some of these tunnels are several hundred years old and have been cut by hand in extraordinary feats of persistence.”

    • I have also been noticing the extreme color changes of the smoke from the non-effusive vents.
      Interesting article, this may explain the effect, thanks for sharing.

      Furthermore, I started to wonder how fast the ash was getting propelled into the air after the intitial steam cloud was quickly shot through by the lava and ash. Could it be 100 m/s?

  15. Hi Carl .. How thick is the litosphere where you live? I knows that it gets thinner towards that way.

    Thickest is in Northen Sweden and specialy Finland – west Russia .. There is a spot near Moscow where it reach 340 km thick!
    Most litosphere on Earth 100 kilometers or much less

    Looks like the Cratons are heated by radioactive decay in the continetal crust
    Althrough most of a cratons depth is ultramafic mantle rock thats quite cold.

    Mars general litosphere depth is now tought to be around 380 to 570 km thick, According to InSight data, with Only a 3 th of Earths geothermal gradient. Mars is smaller and haves cooled more than Earth. Still Mars remains hot inside, and volcanism been quite recent.
    Still colonizers will not get geothermal on Mars.

    • I have never checked how thick it is here, it is though thinner here than up north (obvious).

  16. La palma, lava entry on water reserviors create white plumes. That have only to 200 metter to the cliffts / coast. New lava arm on the north, past over remainds of La laguna football camp and continue to the Northwest,

    • That white plume of steam has been going for well over an hour so am I the only one wondering could it actually be that the lava has found a water main?

      • It is most definitely following and extremely linear track but then I suppose downhill slope could cause that. However steam being produced in a line screams water main or irrigation channels to me. However surely irrigation channels would sooner have been overwhelmed?

        • The zone has fill by water reserviods, surely has the bigger one of the pic has been filled.

          • Many thanks for the picture Angel, that really explains better than a thousands words what I saw this afternoon. So massive irrigation channels would certainly explain that continuous plume of steam.

  17. What would be potential negative effects in the long or short term if society started to do this regularly?

    • Hello Tallis!

      Okay, first there was Gwen, and now you, coming up with questions that are so good that they deserve an entire article.

      Short answer would be negligible for deep geothermal unless we go bonkers and have local extraction that is to high. At least for the first 100 years, after that things could get tricky at some extraction sites. Thankfully there are many many places to extract from.

      And in the deep future (say 100 years) we will have fusion-power. Anything we do now is just a stopgap until then.

    • Geothermal energy is largely nuclear energy – most of it is from nuclear decay in the crust, a smaller part is from nuclear decay in the mantle, and about 10% comes from the core. To make it ‘renewable’ we need to extract it at the rate it is generated. That corresponds to about 0.3W/m^2 on the earth surface, on average. Of course most of this ends up in the oceans, via the mid-oceanic rifts. Extract more and eventually the crust will cool down. Something to worry about in a million years or so. It is much more significant when extracting heat a hundred meter below your house (ground heat pump) when we may eventually need to drill deeper.

      And to put a number on: total energy generated inside the earth is around 10 times our global electricity usage.

      • If Earth was a Super Earth say 6 Earth masses, You woud have much higher geothermal heating of the interior ..

        Gravity woud not be alot higher at all acually because of the square cube physics
        Just a little bit higher

        IO thats tidaly heated to oblivion haves the highest geothermal gradient in our solar system

      • The solution to the ground heat dissipation is to put hydrosolar-panels on your roof and pump heat down during the summer. It is becoming quite the rage in Sweden to do this combo.

        • Since heat pumps work both ways, heating and cooling, can’t the heat extracted during cooling be pumped down during the summer?

          • Ding!
            1 point awarded to Vito G…
            Problem is that most heatpumpers do not really grasp this concept. It would also make it possible to cool the house during really warm summer days. I did this to my heating floor, I run it in reverse during the summer creating heat for the ground heating.
            It was though quite costly to do and reconstructing the heat pump accordingly was a bitch.

          • As Carl mentions: most of the idea’s are actually used.

            Funny sidenote: in western europe it is difficult to convince people that this is actually possible, the main feeling is that the weather is too cold.
            While in the nordics it is getting the common/normal solution.

            I also did invest in a geothermal heatpump. Using three 95m deep drilled heat exchangers.
            But if you think about this: the main heat source is coming from above.

          • Do the sums. The volume required is vast. I tried to work out such a system with a (very) large buried swimming poorl. The amounts of energy were insufficient.
            I know people with soil heat pumps, they work fine for a (quite short) while, then the volume is too chilled to be useful.
            Carls cubic km sized chunks are a different matter.

          • Farmeroz, Carls heatpump that is pumping down energy into the ground during the summer works spiffingly at his house, and has done so for years. 😉

            There are solutions to most problems if one just use Ye Ole Noggin’. 🙂

      • Colonies on IO will have No problem with geothermal heating there the avarge ground yeilds a much much much much higher output than even the Kilauea and Grimsvötn arera

        Any colony will anyway have huge problems with Jupiters radiation and threat of
        1600 C ultramafic Komatite lava flows .. as well as lava fountains

        Better To place a mine on
        IO on the sulfur deserts far away from the active Sillicate Volcanism Centers

      • Thanks Albert,
        You answerd some questions:
        0,3 W/m2
        Mostly radioactive decay

        First number is a bummer, online this little is available, and we can only taken a fraction if we want to avoid problems.
        Second piece of information tells us that this source will last for a while.

    • My back of an envelope suggest UK ENTIRE energy could be provided by 160 well complexes over 160 sqkm. Using 8 -16 km^2/annum (in effect).
      Area of UK is 250,000 sq km.
      Its going to take a while.
      PS I think fusion will NEVER be viable.

      • Fusion: That is possible. We should still try though. High risk but very high pay-off

        • Fusion?
          Yes, try.
          But technically insanely difficult even as a demonstration.
          Fission was done fist-off in a local swimmingpool, low tech and effective.

        • We will succeed with it, but I do not think it will be in the form we are trying now, and it will take time. That is why I wrote 100 years as a tentative timeframe.

          It may though turn out that some really exotic technology leapfrogs it, like quantum tunneling into a star for energy, or some such weird idea.

          I am just sure of one thing, if enough bright minds pound at a problem for long enough we will have a permanent solution. In the meantime it is up to me to build a good and reliable stopgap solution lasting 100 years or more. (What, me ego? Nah…)

    • Its making a Big Cinder Cone
      Looks very much like the 2001 Etna Piano del lago cone

    • Not sure if has a old cone or a new lava vent, over the main lava exit some minutes ago. Has convert with the pass of the minutes on a big fountain.

    • Again!!! I wish I knew why it starts in the evening or perhaps just more noticable then? I was still awake at 2:00am watching this morning. Old age and sleep do not go well together. 🙂

      • Seems like yet another cone flank collapse is indeed in the making.
        I hope it will take the same path as the previous flows and that not a lot of new property is damaged.

        • By IGN:
          3.7 mbLg SW FUENCALIENTE DE LA PALMA.IL 2021/10/17 19:38:14 39 +info
          3.4 mbLg SW VILLA DE MAZO.ILP 2021/10/17 19:24:25 35 +info

      • What live view is that? It seems to be a slightly different angle than the view from “my” link…

        • Thank you! TV La Palma have been unavailable recently. Looks like they are back online.
          They show a thin lava stream while TV Canarias cannot see it.

    • The eruption been going for weeks and still the same viscous old basalt..
      Etna looking eruption

      No fresher stuff yet

      • Good point Jesper.
        There seems to be a surprising amount of old dregs stored in a surprisingly large reservoir down there. It would explain the deformation changes seen at slightly odd places.

      • Exactly had this been say
        Kilauea and Fagradalshraun style fluidity.. It woud have flowed like liquid aluminium down the steep slopes in Raging flood torrents…

        The current rivers flows fast too..and have flowed very fast. But its still same viscosity as Etna as example. Must be a very large chamber thats being erupted

  18. Drone Spooting….(the green lights).. surely running to check the new vent.

  19. So how do you dodge the layer of fracking gas, which is adding methane into the atmosphere faster than the melting tundra? Frack pads are all over North America, uncapped, and perpetually leaching gas, toxic chemicals used instead of water, to push the gas up, and poisoned waterways, soil, and longterm health issues for nearby residents? Are you choosing solid lava rock to drill into, with no deep sedimentary carbon? How ‘green’ is geothermal energy? Does it pollute?
    We have small scale geothermal heating in a nearby school. It is satisfactory. Wales has ancient volcanism, but the deeper rock is still quite warm, as testified by miners in the many historic mines in the area.
    Is the potential for large scale heating or electricity production limited to actively volcanic zones?
    It also always surprises me that Japan hasn’t developed its geothermal potential beyond onsen baths in every town…..

    • Bloody heck, what can of worms have I opened up? 🙂

      Just joking, I love all the very good questions.
      First of all, let me say that I am not an expert on hydraulic fracturing in the context of hydrocarbon wells, like the ones you are talking about. So, I will not go into that part since it is outside of the scope of the article, and also my comfort zone of expertise.
      I will just simply state that it should be mandatory to cap all wells regardless of type, for instance this is legally obligated for geothermal wells in New Zealand, and you have to deposit the cost for capping before you start to even drill when you make the application. Good policy. 🙂

      I will here answer from the perspective of a plant built at a volcano, it may be slightly different for a crustal plant (but not much).
      As you drill downwards you will not have hydrocarbon issues, and often you will drill through lava layers caping any gases, furthermore, after drilling is done the well is lined so that the steam will not escape into the bedrock, the same lining will also hold back any gases in the rock.
      If you drill into a volcano you get mostly volcanic gases, CO2, SO2 and so on and so forth. These will come up with the steam.
      This means that as the steam is turning into water during the endstage of energy extraction you get acidic carbonated water that is needs cleaning. So you run it through a water purification plant where you among other things lock the CO2 into carbonatite, remove the sulphur and other metals (sold off, this is valuable stuff).
      In the end the water is reinjected through a reinjection borehole. The carbonatite is then cleaned and sold as soil replenishment.
      This is called a closed loop cycle. It is a tad more costly per kilowatt, but it is actually paying itself.

      If you instead use crustal geothermal energy that is really deep you also get hydrogen coming up, and that is captured and sold.

      Done right geothermal energy is very green, it is up there with wind, solar and above hydropower. If you do not use closed loop cycling and instead let the residual steam out into the atmosphere you obviously get pollution, and also if you just release untreated water you get pollution.

      It is an order of magnitude cheaper to produce geothermal energy (on average) at volcanic zones compared to crustal geothermal energy, but both are viable depending on the local electricity price.

      Japan is a mystery to me, they could turn off all coal and nuclear and go straight for achieving Greentech Nerdvana if they wished, but they have petrified their mindset against greentech, just take stern look at Toyota and their resistance to electrification. But, that is another topic for another day.

      • On the other side I place a bet that the Japanese are the only people on the whole planet (with the exception of Iceland) who know what they are living on. The deepest trenches are close to Japan. That might make reluctant to drilling. At least they developped good building techniques.

        • That is not why they are not doing it. It is more that they are stuck in the mindset of wanting to use coal and nuclear.
          It will probably change as the young ones start to take over. Japan is in for one hell of a cultural change over the coming decade or two.

  20. Very big lava flows, thw vulcan has very efusive yet.

  21. I would think long and hard about extracting geothermal energy from active volcanic systems, as at what point do you upset the balance? Not to mention the unpredictability of volcanoes, sometimes all it takes is a sudden fresh batch of magma from underneath. I feel like these systems should just be left well alone, though it does make sense to extract earth’s natural heat from less volatile places.

    • Let me just point out that this has been done safely for many many decades around the world. Iceland is doing it on a fairly big scale, same with New Zealand, Indonesia, Italy, the US… The list just goes on and on.
      And not in any instance has this caused a problem at a volcano.

  22. Hawaii haves a crazy crazy crazy geothermal gradient: I wonder If more plants will pop up on the rift zones on Big Islands volcanoes..
    But local views on that and perhaps diffrent political goals are preventing that ..

    Still woud be fun to drill into Halema’uma’u
    But they have already done that with the Keller groundwater well .. But none have tryed To drill down into the chamber. But its sacred as heck for the locals

    They have drilled with PGV in the ERZ and encountered many magma pockets of difftent freshness

    Carl .. What about drilling into Grimsvötn?
    that too haves a high heat gradient and a very shallow chamber. If you drill in Svianukur Grimsvotn perhaps You gets jets of superheated steam. Must be tryed one day to penetrate Grimsvötn 🙂

    • Grimsvötn is about to do stuff soon 🙂
      The next eruption coud be of lower intensity than 2011 But lasting longer.
      If we are lucky, we may get a surtsey Island in the caldera If it last long enough.

      If it erupts on the Ice Free caldera rim.. you gets Galapagos fire Fountain style event .. big big fountains.

      How much have the entire Grimsvötn arera inflated since 2011?

      • The general attitude of doing anything to the volcanoes in Hawaii will prevent use of geothermal. Hawaii is not a big place regardless and solar with storage would be sufficient, solar panels dont take as much space as people tend to think but even then they can be put on roofs of buildings or on footpaths.

        I dont know exactly the power output of Kilaueas summit, but I would put a good bet it is the highest per area of anywhere on this planet. It took a year for the caldera to even cool enough to allow water on the surface at all, and the lake never fell below 70 C. To heat that lake by 1 C took 4 TJ of energy and so I would assume we are looking at potentially terawatts of power here… I am probably very wrong and I am not good at maths but a place that can sustain the worlds hottest lava lake for years on end is probably a good assumption.

        I think if someone built a power plant there it would also become the Chernobyl of geothermal…

      • It is so hot too in Hawaii they only really need solar energy and electricity for home cooling air condition. Kailua Kona and Hilo was so hot that I coud barely stand it even in december..

        Big Island haves 12 climate
        Zones, But in the lowlands at coast its very hot. While snow falls on Mauna Loa

        Kailua Kona is as warm as mediterranean high summer all year around!

        But property near Kilaueas summit does need to deal with cold winter nights.

    • Still woud be fun to drill into Halema’uma’u

      Yeah, “fun” in the Dwarf Fortress dug-too-deep sense perhaps. 🙂

  23. To avoid confusion, I have changed the swedish megawatts to anglosaxon ones. All ‘mW’s are now MW in the post, at no change in power production

    • Sigh…

      All this hatred of the Swedish megawatt… 🙁

      Thanks Albert, I guess this will lower the probability of Florida-man hooking up a gigawatt mainline into his bedside LED-lamp at his bath-salts factory. 🙂

      • Or vice versa. And Texas man, I think, rather than Florida. Last winter Texas introduced rolling blackouts but forgot to put the gas production sites on the list for guaranteed power. They should have been excluded from the rolling cuts. So gas production stopped, and after two days of these blackouts, they ran out of gas for the gas-powered electricity plants – the trigger that set off the statewide blackout precisely during the coldest period. Mismanagement of the highest order which beats Florida man hands down. The official reports dryly comments “FERC recommended that ERCOT examine how it implements rolling blackouts and consider additional connections to other grids”

    • I’m confused. I’m Swedish and I have never seen mW used for megawatts (or maybe I have and have dismissed it as a mistake). On the contrary, I think we are usually quite strict with SI units and prefixes.

      • We are, it is just that we used to have a hard rule on abbreviations.
        The potential was always in gemen and the name was in kapitäl.
        I asked about this back at school and got this answer:
        “If you can’t understand the difference you are to stupid to handle any electricity”. 🙂

        They might have internationalised things since my way back when time at school.

        And yes, we are normally extreme on the following international standards. We are after all pretty much the only people on the planet using the correct date-format, YYYY-MM-DD.

        • It’s strange, but I really don’t recognize this. I think the age difference between us is less than 10 years and the only abbreviations I can come up with that follow that rule is f.Kr. and e.Kr. (English BC and AD).

          Anyway, it’s a great article and an equally great discussion in the comments section. Looking forward to the next part.

    • Carl. When you get rich from this idea, don’t forget to give plenty of money to your short-term acquaintance!

    • PS Since when was 1kW enough to power a home?
      OK, perhaps if you have gas cooking ….

      • Unless you use electricity for heating a regular house would typically be below that number if you average it out as kW/h.

        On the other hand, if you have a large honking server running 24/7 and a hifi-setup on 24/7 that is in pure class-A, then 1kW/h is not even close to cutting it. 😉

        • Well its the difference between peak (kettle on: 2.8kW) and average, I guess. Sadly you need to be able to meet peak power not average power.

          PS Class D amps are astonishing these days. Class A have always been a bit stressfully imefficient for be, although I did make a Mullard 5:10 AB valve amp once, ran it direct off the mains via a semiconductor bridge (very hi-tek those days), after all it has an output transformer …..

          • Actually you have to meet the peak power consumption across the network, and that is often something else.
            Anyway, this is where grid-storage will make a big difference, evening out the peaks will lower the peak production need with 30 percent in most grids.

            I think I will keep my Nelson Pass Aleph Zeros… 😉

  24. How many millions m^3 of lava has Fagradalsfjall erupted in total?
    I’d like to compare to the 80e6 m^3 of the volcano in La Palma.

    • Both have erupted roughly 150 million cubic meters as of today.

      It is a bit larger than usual from La Palma, but for being in Iceland it is very small.
      I would venture and say that this eruption at La Palma is about as large as it could feasibly become.

    • Most avarge Iceland eruptions rarely go beyond 1km3 but sizable VEI 4 s are common. Capacity of 30 km3 lava flows are in the extreme end. Still Icelands capacity is much higher than Canaries

      Grimsvötn 2011 produced 0,3km3 of dense tephra equalent, but with perhaps much more If lava later flowed into the subglacial lake raising its water level permanently. The first day of eruption was Insane

      Gjalp 1997 produced 0,7 km3 of materials in form a hydroclastic lava glacial ridge.

      Holuhraun 2014 produced 1,4 km3 of lava

      Eyfjallajökull 2010 produced 0,4 km3
      I think

      Grimsvötn 1998 was about as Big as fagradalshraun in volume I think

      Grimsvötn 2004 was 0,2 km3 If I can remeber correct

      Hekla 2000 was 250 million cubic meters almost overnight.. hellflood

      Fagradalshraun 2021 have produced
      150 million cubic meters .. But in a very slow manner. Hekla produces the same volume in hours in extreme cases …

      • This yeilds us with over 2km3 of basaltic materials in the last 20 years. So Iceland is indeed very productive.
        Iceland may have produced 510km3 in last 10 000 years.
        But its Iceland as a whole and not from a single Iceland volcano.

        Other hyperproductive volcanoes are Kilaūea, Mauna Loa, Nyiramulagira and Etna.

      • Might be overestimating some of these. Gjalp was 0.4 km3 DRE, Eyjafjallajokull was probably less than 0.1 km3 DRE, same for Grimsvotn in 1998 and 2004. Hekla 2000 seems to have been around 0.1 km3 DRE too, in 1991 it was closer to 0.25 though.

        Holuhraun was really out in front by a massive lead here, it was really a very big eruption and not at all an average event. Theres only been 2 other lava flows in the last millennium that definitely exceeded it, with 2 maybe comparable, so it is one of the biggest lava flows people have ever seen in Iceland. Since 1990 it is at least half of all the lava erupted in total fro mall of Iceland.
        Maybe Iceland is not actually as productive as Hawaii then, rather sometimes there are some really huge flows and one of those just happened to be recently to skew the numbers a bit.

        • Also, there are a couple that is under-estimated.
          Holuhraun has an official figure of 1.8km3, and Grimsvötn 2011 was 0.8km3 DRE (only Iceland would name that a VEI-4…) and quite a bit that remained in the lake that is not accounted for in this number.

          Iceland as a whole is absolutely just out there, but per single volcano only 3 can compare to Hawaiin volcanoes over time.

          • Grimsvotn 2011 has 0.8 km3 as a total but DRE is 0.3, so definitely a VEI 4 but a very powerful one. I think there was no mistake with calling it a VEI 4, it would set a bad precendent really to deliberately make up their own definition of the scale which is supposed to be universal.

          • I have always wondered about that.
            The report stated 0.8DRE (I have it somewhere in one of my by now many boxes of reports). I have therefore used it, that being said, it is likely to have been either a typo or they counted in the estimate of residual lava at the lake bottom.
            I am quite happy with 0.8km3 in tephra and just put the lava estimate separately.

            To be honest I just wrote it down as the Icelanders being of so sturn stuff that they use 1km3 DRE as the limit of when they count it as a VEI-5… 🙂

            Anyhoos, it was definitely a VEI-4, albeit the largest one since Cierro Hudson (VEI-5).

          • Is there really lava erupted at the bottom of the lake? The eruption was very explosive and never incandescent at any point, it looks like it was pretty thoroughly quenched in the lake, like the early stages of Surtsey. Would make more sense if the lake was filled in with muddy tephra, which is still an unaccounted volume but rather a lot less than if it was lava.

            There also could have been increased ice flow into the caldera to raise the measurement for the lake (which I assume is on the ice above it).

      • Carl where do you get the 1,8km3 for Holuhraun?

        Most figures lands on around 1,4km3 for Holuhraun…

        Leilani 1, 2 km3

        • 1.8+-0.2km3 is the measured volume of the caldera collapse at Bardarbunga. The erupted volume is measured at 1.2+-0.2km3, or 1.6 (both are found in the literature). The smaller volume is more likely, with 0.6km3 remaining underground in the dike

          • So Leilani was actually bigger than Holuhraun then… It did look a lot more intense in the videos to me.

        • Leilani is 1,2 km3

          Holuhraun is 1,4km3

          Leilani reached many thousands of cubic meters a second during the massive episodic drainouts in the constant flow at Fissure 8

          Fissure 8 was luckly it was not on a steep slope

          • Was revised to 1.5 km3 this year after detailed bathymetry of the flow was done. Turns out there was twice as much lava offshore as originally thought. The SO2 flux was also revised using better measurement techniques and lines up better with the larger volume.

            Still though, it seems this was not a terminator eruption, more a ‘normal’ rift eruption that happened in the right place and time to get way out of hand. If the earthquake happened on its own Pu’u O’o probably would have paused and the summit might have had a minor collapse of the lava lake pit, and if the quake never happened there would have been a minor to moderate eruption in Leilani probably with Pu’u O’o waking up after a few weeks again. Combined they turned into a monster…

        • Problem is that when you calculate the thickness of Holuhraun you get 1.8ish.
          They never changed the estimate of the height of the field, even though it was double the height (or more) towards the center.

          Albert: I think the missing 0.6 comes from the feeder near Greip.

      • Chad I found a photo of Grimsvötn 1998 blowing out glowing hot ash .. wants to show that. I maybe the first on internet to ever see this 🙂
        I showed Carl that a few days ago and he was supprised.

        I guess I haves to Send it to you over gmail. You can Ask VC dragons for my gmail .. via mail.

        If the next Grimsvötn show happens on the South caldera rim you basicaly gets Etna 2015 voragine 🙂

    • Thanks for your comments and figures.
      How come one gives La Palma 80e6 and another 150e6?
      Yes, I also read that Holuhraun must have been insane 🙂

  25. Ah,
    knew it was too good to be true.
    The calculation I made at the start of the thread was for geothermal heating and NOT electrical generation.
    For that we sadly need to introduce the laws of thermodynamics which means the THEORETICAL MAXIMUM energy extractable is (Th-Tc)/Th (all in kelvin). This reduces the energy you get from the heat source and effectively gears UP the cost from the capital investment. You really need to be extracting heat with at least 300C min temp and even this pushes your cost per unit generation up by a factor of more than 3x,

    For examples below for max theoretical efficiencies:
    Th Tc Eff Cost Mult Temps on C
    200 100 21% 4.7
    300 100 35% 2.9
    400 100 45% 2.2
    500 100 52% 1.9
    600 100 57% 1.7
    800 100 65% 1.5
    1400100 78% 1.3

    • You are actually overdoing it now…
      Basically you are applying the same factors that are already applied.
      It is due to me giving the MW figures in extracted electricity and not steam energy potential, in other words I have applied the efficiency figures of the production methods beforehand. I should obviously have mentioned this.
      So, your initial (flawed) calculations are correct due to my omission.

      Just for reference, the standard method used (by us) for a volcano-direct setup in a magma-field is High-pressure turbine, low-pressure turbine. In the old plants the residual steam is just released, in mid-modern plants you use a cooling cycle, and modern plants use thermoelectric converters to extract the rest.
      We instead use sterling-engines in the third stage since they are 1, cheaper, and 2, more efficient.
      In this kind of setup the starting point is a supercritical fluid at very high temperatures.

      For crustal electricity you would at best use two stages, so comparatively low efficiency (something that is accounted for in my examples in the article).

      • OK, but I was not. I was using the rock thermal capacity.
        For electricity generation and reasonably cheap generating devices I think you need higher temperatures.
        I also took rock 5km deep x 1 km square but I think 3km deep block starting at 2km is more realistic.
        You will want to be highly selective initially to pick the best sites.
        Ready fractured strata containing water would be good.

        • In regards of the “selecting” part.
          Guess why we go into magma-fields… Completely different output.

          The difference between water containing and if you need to fracture and inject is in the greater scheme of things negligible in cost.

          • If its already full of water and well fractured, you don’t need to frack or (really) inject water (possibly causing microquakes) and these cause endless planning problems. No subterrenean change taking place.
            With good reason when someone punctures an aquifer below anhydrite layers in a town or city for example.

          • If we (crudely) say the lithosphere is 25km thick and its 1250C at the bottom that would mean 50C/km (probably an overstatement), which should be doable in rock already heated due deformation (alps) or ancient magma emplacements (massif central, parts of germany). Then your 6km hole would get to 300C.

          • The injection part is depending on the volcano in question.
            For the one that we are doing the permiting process for right now we do not need to inject more than what would be lost in the production process (there is always some loss), we must do that since land subsidence is not allower there.

            If I on the other hand would be (this is just an insane example) drilling into the dyke leading to Holuhraun it would almost certainly be bone dry.

            In classic setups you normally inject to replenish what you take out to hinder subsidence, that causes very little earthquake activity.

            I do not think that locking in on a given depth is a good idea, some parts have very high electricity prices and that would merit deeper holes, and in some part you would not need to drill deep.
            And obviously sometimes it is cheaper to drill aways from where you need the electricity and just dump a cable and pipe the electricity in.

  26. Wonder if this could be done in the gold mines of South Africa. They are mining at 4000m where the ambient rock temp is approx 50°C. If you start at the bottom of the mine and drill down, you are a good way down already.

    • The rock temp is higher, the 50C is after cooling…
      I am very very happy that I do not work down in that mine. 🙂

  27. Africa is primed for Geothermal Energy
    The whole East Africa have tremedous potential in the Geothermal Sector ….

    A country and region can become much more developed by trying the geothermal sector.

    Sao Miguel Azores where poor and poorly preforming economy before they tryed the Geothermal Things.. it have raised them alot by getting geothermal

    • I’d be astonished if any company dared an investment in Congo or on the other side of the rift zone aside from the IS. Tanzania though is thinkable.

      • A company that I am associated with does business in Tanzania, so I am quite familiar with the country.

  28. 4.3 mbLg SW VILLA DE MAZO.ILP
    2021/10/18 11:33:56

  29. Extremely interesting piece, Carl, and also very lively comment thread with good Q&A. For the time being, just few questions:
    1. 100 years till fusion, really? No chance to get there earlier?
    2. Go into active volcanoes seems risky. What about the vicinity? Let me take the Canaries, a large volcanic region. Why not go near La Palma or Lanzarote? Possible? Same near Kamtschatka, near the African rift or near the Cascade range?
    3. I think, honestly, we should never drill into volcanoes. Reason: Seem somehow holy. We should maybe learn not to mingle into everything. Local people might mind. And also be afraid. Imagine Taal. Would you really like to drill there? In The Philippines in general? The whole area including Indonesia might be China’s active continental margin in the far future. Fact is: Plates are travelling.
    4. What about CO2-sinks (enlargement) which would leave oil and gas to a lesser degree among the players.
    5. What about an extremely high effort to prevent arson and also burns near the Arctic Circle caused by bad forest management?

    Hinting at the mixture of technique mentioned in the piece. Sinks and forest preservation weren’t mentioned.

    • Example: Changbaisan aka Paektu is a holy site.
      Nearly all the volcanoes of Latin America have been holy sites, and those First People there evidently weren’t stupid.
      El Teide was a holy site and thank God and thank Carracedo is a UNESCO site now.
      So, for me, Atomic Power will stay the power resource of the future, disturbing earth and its motor seems highly gigantomaniac and extremely risky to me. Earth has killed many more folks with quakes and Tsunamis than Atomic Power has.
      Concerning volcanoes and plumes, Veto, sorry. But when Veto, VC is the best place, very open towards objection.
      “Hawaii is so much more than a paradise with a volcanic temper. It may be born from events in Panthalassa, and it may have helped shaped the ocean it sits in. There are secrets in its past, and skeletons are hidden in its oceanic cupboard. Ozymandias fooled the poet. The missing mighty works were hidden below the sand where the poet failed to look. Pele has gone one better. She shows us wonders on her island, which make us forget to look for treasure below the surface. Was Pele created by the Pacific, and did she, in return, destroy one of her plates? It fits her reputation. What a story it would be.” Quotation Albert, Hawai’i and Pacific Ocean.

      If we build up sinks we don’t disturb earth, the oceans and plate tectonics. We won’t risk quakes.

      • There are enough unholy volcanoes that are honestly but ugly to drill into.
        We should definitely not use the epic ones, or if done, build buildings out of local material and do your darn best to make them look nice. And build them with local support.

    • The only stable place on earth seem to be Cratons. They travelled around and seem to be still the same, very old. What about putting atomic waste deep into mainland cratons?

      • The Finns have done it at the best and most solid craton on the planet. They heaped money into it. They can only guarantee 1000 years. Sweden looked into doing it, but we could not do it since we want a 10 000 years safety margin.
        Instead we have steeled ourselves into the prospect of having to maintain the shit in a long series of purposebuilt facilities into the deep future (or some scientific breakthrough in the future).

        Another thing we discovered, not even cratons are that stable.

    • I will try to answer your questions.
      1. The current plan building the ITER gives if all works out 2035 for first fusion. Then you have the DEMO-reactor to be built after that, and is to be finished in the 2050s… at best.
      And that is if it even works. My guess is that doubling the timelines is more accurate.
      But, something might crop in between moving the schedule closer to our time. 100 years is perhaps a bit pessimistic, but I do not think by much. It is after all the by far largest industrial project in human history, with all sorts of unknowns.
      2. It is surprisingly unrisky, and have already been done.
      I recommend reading a previous article I wrote on the risks involved.
      Vicinity does not cut it, rock is just a too good insulator.
      La Palma and Lanzarote have usable magma fields to drill into, but the economy and utility need is not there for a large plant, but perhaps a smaller one. Kamchatka would be possible, same with the African rift (but politically challenging), and the Cascades would be doable.
      3. One should definitely not drill into the most holy volcanoes on Earth, but there are several places where the locals do want energy as long as you do it respecting the environment and culture, New Zealand comes to mind.
      Going through all the worlds volcanoes would be pointless, but I would not drill into a volcano that would in rapid order blow up (from natural causes) thusly destroying my new shiny plant. Hekla is definitely on that list, same goes for Grimsvötn. 🙂
      4. Carbon sinks is just bullshit, excuse my French. It would use up more energy capturing the carbon than is produced by burning the carbohydrate of choice. It’s the most dishonest scam in the human history, all concocted originally by the Koch brothers.
      5. Raking the forrests? Ha!
      On the other hand, planting trees is a good idea as a way to help restoring things. It does not solve the carbohydrate problem, but it will somewhat shorten the time we live in hell while giving us oxygen to breathe.

      Now you know why I did not mention it, I see the first as a rude scam, and the second as something nice but not enough. That being said, I do pay to have trees planted.

      • Thank you for the good and complete answer, Carl. It’s good to know that it would be well thought over and not every volcano a target. For heating it could be a win. With Africa’s instability even big sun collectors were a problem, was thinking of that. Nobody would invest near Congo.

        Yet there needs to be pressure on politicians esp. in Russia, Scandinavia and Canada to renew their forests (trees too big with light crowns, smaller trees protect the mosses) and provide for fire protection, also because of Methane escape.
        About the wildfires in Greece I have no knowledge, just heard that a few people were taken in by the Police. In France it seems to have been a cigarette bud plus strong Mistral wind.
        I am a light smoker myself and take all my cigarette buds with me if there is no ashtray, in town and esp. in the countryside. There should be a campaign for that. It doesn’t look nice either. I always have a small metal box with me. Yesterday I walked on a beautiful plateau between the Sasslong Group and the Schlern. I had forgotten my box and put the bud in my coat pocket. Better a bit of tobacco in my coat than a fire.
        Poltics is too absolute. They keep thinking they can turn everybody into a non-smoker. Not with me. It’s my heart and lungs, and I am extremely healthy, having even worked with radionuclids for ten years, btw., people with Technetium and Iodid in their body. So, I obviously survived that. It should not be driven by any dilettant hysteria that we have a lot. That Yellow Cake in Southern Congo by contrast is horrible.
        So thanks – as I said: Quite interesting and challenging.

        • I’ve been to Shinkolobwe.
          I was in Congo for completely different reasons, and I new that Shinkolobwe was where the Uranium for the nuclear bomb program came from. I am also interested in mining history.
          So me and a few buddies went there.
          I am about as tough as people come.

          What we found was not a shut down mine that was concreted over.
          What we found was literal hell on Earth.
          Artisanal yellow cake mining performed by small children, selling yellow cake for a dollar a pound, paying with their lives in collapses, and with lifespans counted in years.
          I broke down and cried, and we got out of Hell as fast as possible because we understood that everything there was radioactive.

          • Yes, awful. Nobody should do this kind of stuff to totally uneducated people. It’s gross abuse.

  30. Small earthquake swarm of around 20 earthquakes on the south western side of Mt Hood since yesterday. The times seem to be a bit sparadic but it looks like it’s probably stopped for now.

    In other news Piton de la Fournaise looks as though it’s waking up again, which wouldn’t suprise me considering how much it erupts.

    • Yesterday, I incidentally just read about Piton de la Fournaise in Wikipedia.
      The lava pictures of (IIRC) 2004, do look absolutely stunning, seemingly just silently flowing straight through the lush forest. 😮

    • I have just been having a look at Mt. Hood, mostly micro quakes but at a very shallow depth. Nonetheless, there has been a lot of tremor activity around that region quite recently.

  31. Carl, very good article, thank you very much!
    I was just wondering, what makes you think we can extract those 5 MW for more than a few days or weeks?
    I bet you thought about that and know exactly about both the thermal resistance and capacitance. With that in mind, are you still convinced this could work out as intended?
    What is the resistance and capacitance, in a ballpark estimation? Or even just orders of magnitude 🙂

    Also, did I get that correctly that with the 4th approach there isn’t any fracking involved? But still replenishment? Or not even that?
    I heard that fracking might provoke quakes…

    Looking forward to the follow-up =)

    • Obviously we have done the numbers. There is also empirical data from existing plants that can be adapted.
      There will though over time be a drop in energy output. This is why you later on drill some more holes called replenishment holes, and then you start to alternate holes. The ones resting will slowly heat up from the adjacent magma (or crust), and can then be used again.
      This is standard practice today.

      I would still inject, subsidence is not fun and also causes small earthquakes. But, let us hold on with the quakey bit until the article shall we. 🙂

      • Once the lights start to go out and people see a big drop in living standards the odd minor quake will not be important. Its one thing agitating when it seems to have no consequences and quite another when you are sitting at home cold, hungry and jobless.

    • Can anyone tell where the huge smoke cloud to the extreme left is coming from? (19:45 pm CET) see the view above

          • Its smoking for several days now. I don’t think that we have breaking news here. (That is just my opinion, maybe I’m wrong.)

        • I believe you are correct. When the 7:45 pm eruption kicked in, the smoke from this vent kicked up noticeably.

    • 8 pm CET, some people commented about the cloud to the extreme left, wondering about it, and a drone has been sent up hovering in one spot monitoring the eruption which is fairly intense at the moment. Dogs have been barking for the last 15 minutes and people noticed them barking.

  32. How long will it take before Taal’s hydrothermal chamber fully repressurizes? I am thirsty for some explosive eruptions.

    • I know that it will happen sooner rather than later, but I am not happy about it. That one could kill a lot of people as and when the real eruption happens.

      • If phivolcs stays on top of this volcano,like butter on toast, then no one has to die but I am skeptical, to say the least. It can’t be long now since the chamber has been repressurizing since August, what I am worried about is if there is a solid connection with magma chambers and the hydrothermal chamber, which could make thing extremely nasty

        • Problem is that if a large enough eruption occurs the lakebed will pop and the lake drops into the magma reservoir(s) below.
          What is worrysome also to me is the prolonged runup we have seen, and the frankly quite large SO2-release. This tells us that quite a bit of magma have moved into the system, and if that remobilizes the large amount of crystalised mush, then the entire country has a problem.
          I hate long runups at volcanoes that are even remotely related to the word “super”.

  33. There is a huge amount of fresh and fast lava just south of the Mt. La Laguna heading for the sea:

    Source: YT…watch?v=V7NN3lCg_NU

    • Right. Some progress to what I have seen in Spain. The problem is the folks who left the dogs there in the first place.

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