Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Alaska's Volcano Power

In Alaska, a volcano has lead to an extraordinary opportunity: cheap geothermal power.

Geothermal power is a very promising means of obtaining the water-boiling heat from the inside of the earth itself, which is extremely hot due to some radioactive rocks near the core. In most areas, this would be prohibitively expensive, as to get enough power, you would have to drill all the way into the mantle to get enough heat, and pump the water both there and back before any power was generated.

But in some areas, like near volcanoes, and between continental plates, such as in Iceland, a stream of burning-hot lava is readily available near the surface, which can be tapped. Pipe water in a short distance, use the push of the steam to get your electricity, and release the de-powered steam into the atmosphere. The power is incredibly cheap if the lava is nearby, so Iceland gets a huge fraction of its electricity this way.

If this works, there will be less need to ship coal to Alaska for power, and a greater reason to move there (low power bills).

For those of you unfamiliar with American Geography, Alaska is a region near the north pole that the United States purchased from Russia in 1867. Russia at the time saw it as too far away and difficult to manage. (Governing Alaska involved crossing the entire length of their country, then getting on a boat, sailing a short way, finding the people in a large, mostly rural area, then reversing the entire trip back. Very few Russians bothered to move there, so they decided that they'd rather have the money. To my knowledge, Russia has no interest in buying it back. Russian nationalists would like to buy it back, if they could dig up enough money.)

Alaska is now the largest state in the United States since its statehood in 1959. It is also of interest to single women, as it has the most skewed sex-ratio in the entire united states, having 4 men living there for every woman.

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