What Hawaii Could Learn About Geothermal From Iceland - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

David Cotriss

David Cotriss is an award-winning writer who has covered business, technology and finance for over 30 years. He's published over 1,000 news and feature articles for publications including The Economist, CNBC, Nasdaq.com and Entrepreneur.

All eyes are on Hawaii as the Mauna Loa volcano eruption wreaks havoc.

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But despite the chaos, the lava flow is a reminder of the state’s natural resources and potential in one particular area: geothermal development.

Hawaii is the most petroleum-dependent state in the U.S., using around 12 times more energy than it produces. Yet behind all that fossil fuel reliance lies a rich alternative energy source: geothermal power.

Although Hawaii has made some progress toward geothermal energy adoption, it’s far from untapping its true potential. One country it can look to for inspiration is Iceland.

Volcanic Energy In Iceland

Iceland is well-known for its geothermal areas, which take the form of hot springs popular among tourists (such as the Blue Lagoon). But beyond the Instagram photos, these beautiful bodies of water offer geothermal power: volcanic heat found below the earth’s surface that generates steam that can become electricity.

This produces around 30% of Iceland’s power and 80% of its heating and hot water. It therefore plays an essential role in a lot of the country’s infrastructure and significantly impacts the local economy.

Applying This To Hawaii

Iceland isn’t the only place in the world that is rich in geothermal power. Geothermal energy resources are close to the surface in Hawaii, which is also why it has numerous active volcanoes.

This opportunity hasn’t been completely missed (although the state lags behind Iceland). Hawaii island is home to Puna Geothermal Venture, a binary-cycle power plant that produces electricity using vapor. It currently has a capacity of 38 MW, which it’s aiming to increase by 8 MW. As one of Hawaii’s younger islands and the most volcanically active, it’s a natural choice for geothermal energy.

The recent eruption of Mauna Loa is a reminder of the energy potential of the Big Island. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

However, possibilities don’t start and end here. It’s possible to generate geothermal energy anywhere with the right underlying geology (a heat source, a migration pathway, a heat reservoir, and economic recovery). And as luck would have it, Hawaiian Electric believes there are also potential geothermal sources in West Hawaii and Maui.

So, why isn’t Hawaii making the most of them already? Part of the reason may be past controversies.

There was a blowout of toxic gas in Puna in 2013, and an eruption in 2018 resulted in the Puna Geothermal Venture closing for two years. There are also concerns about the cultural impact of extracting energy from Mauna Loa, which is said to be home to the volcano goddess Pele.

Therefore, adopting geothermal energy needs to be done while considering cultural implications and using modern, safe methods to reduce the chances of a disaster.

Helping Hawaii

Despite concerns, the potential benefits seem to outweigh the costs.

For one, it would help Hawaii to meet its pledge to cut carbon emissions 70% by 2030. Plus, over the past year, the importance of energy security has been a hot topic.

If local areas can have greater control of their own energy sources, this problem is mitigated. In Iceland, the use of geothermal energy has helped to reduce its heat and electricity prices — and Hawaii could stand to benefit from the same phenomenon.

The production of geothermal energy also has the potential to create more jobs in the area, therefore benefiting the economy. This includes work in all the following areas:

  • suppliers of primary metals and mechanical equipment
  • contractors and consultants to analyze resources and financing
  • drilling and well services
  • environmental services
  • geothermal developers

More workers and economic activity results in more tax revenue for the local government, which benefits everyone.

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Read this next:

Denby Fawcett: Mauna Loa Is A Beacon For Explorers Even Without Lava Flows

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About the Author

David Cotriss

David Cotriss is an award-winning writer who has covered business, technology and finance for over 30 years. He's published over 1,000 news and feature articles for publications including The Economist, CNBC, Nasdaq.com and Entrepreneur.

Latest Comments (0)

Thank you for finally bringing this source of energy into the public discussion. We constantly see articles on solar and wind, which are far less efficient than geothermal. Geothermal should really be at the forefront of renewable energy sources as it can also be transported between islands via undersea cable. Natural endless steam to power turbines, with little to no downside. Steam vents already exist in all active volcanic areas on Hawaii island and the sulfur smell is a natural bi-product. Geothermal is by far the most logical and efficient means of creating electricity in the state, so don't leave it out.

wailani1961 · 5 months ago

New Zealand has a long history in geothermal electricity generation and today geothermal energy produces about 20% of New Zealand's electricity.

Ace · 5 months ago

Aloha,Mahalo Valerie for the update from Civil Beat . I have read similar articles but money talks in this state. The respiratory problems are toonumerous, but it is always something else (flu, cold, covid etc,)Take care of yourselves and your ohana cuz we're on our own in this reality. God bless! :)

jussurfin · 6 months ago

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