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Deep down, B.C.’s a geothermal hotspot

It’s the same principle behind natural hot springs, but much more intense. And B.C. has some of the world’s greatest potential for what some scientists call “the cleanest form of energy known.”

The technology is over 100 years old but two-thirds of the world’s geothermal electricity is centred in just three countries — the U.S., the Philippines and Iceland. None of it — yet — comes from B.C.

Although Canadian companies develop geothermal electricity in the U.S., Canada remains the only country in the Pacific Rim's “ring of fire” that doesn’t generate its own subterranean energy.

The Coast Mountains have Canada’s hottest potential sources. Their energy can be unleashed by drilling a few kilometres below the earth’s surface to the level where magma rises with temperatures between 200 and 300 degrees C. Water brought into contact with those temperatures will create steam to drive turbines on the surface.

Two UBC professors, John A. Meech and Mory Ghomshei, say geothermal can power up to 1,125,000 homes in B.C. within 10 to 15 years.

A proposal being studied at Meager Creek, 70 kilometres northwest of Pemberton, might produce enough electricity for over 90,000 households a year.

Many British Columbians already use lower-temperature geothermal energy. These are much smaller operations used to heat and cool offices, industrial and commercial buildings and even individual houses. Geothermal pumps transfer heat from a level 15 to 30 metres below the surface. In summer, the system transfers heat from the building into the ground. Over 33,000 such
units are in place across Canada.

Professors Meech and Ghomshei place great optimism in a combination of high- and low-temperature geothermal systems. Within 15 years, they say, the two systems can meet half of the GHG cuts required of Canada by the Kyoto Accord. They can also halve our energy costs.

Iceland's hot rocks:
Click here for an interactive diagram on how geothermal energy works.

Green energy resources for B.C.