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Geothermal energy without a volcano: Austin’s intro to Green Energy Living

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) Finding alternate energy sources that work hasn’t been a clear path, but this Austin neighborhood is trying to break new ground with geothermal energy.

EcoSystem showing geothermal energy and solar energy for home system.

For decades humans have been chasing the next great energy source. Despite the push from certain oil and gas companies to keep fossil fuels as the main sources of power, innovators have been pursuing new ways to keep us powered. Over the years we’ve found a number of alternatives, such as solar, wind, nuclear, wave, and geothermal energy. But each comes with their own issues and possible dangers.

Solar energy isn’t fine-tuned enough yet. The required number of solar panels to keep a home running at top power outputs isn’t reasonable except in certain climates. Deserts with few cloudy seasons are the only possible places that it is reasonable. Some areas of Texas get enough sun to supplement their power grids but nothing close enough to run their homes. Unless we can make the interface between solar energy and energy conversion more efficient it will never fully replace anything.

Wind power, yet another energy source that would change the face of our planet to supply us with enough energy to keep us going. The geography necessary for wind turbines to create anything worthwhile is hard to come by. Yet again we have something that won’t work.

I could go on for a long while. I could even drag out a discussion about Chernobyl. But that’s not where we want to go here. Human ingenuity can turn to the better. It takes time and patience as well as some learning.

In Austin, a small 2000 acres, a little valley by the name of Whisper is starting something new. Eco Smart Solutions has gone and used the shotgun method. After inventing a new type of geothermal energy distribution, they then combined this with other forms of green energy. Using the natural heat of the Earth they are using thermal conduction to help produce energy. To help supplement this they are also installing solar panels on all houses to increase energy output.

The new system, referred to as a Geogrid, is established and connected throughout the community. Typical geothermal homes are used for one house alone but in this community that’s the difference. Running specially made pipes throughout the community and also through a central monitoring center allows a computer the keep track of the issues and abnormal temperature changes. This connectivity also allows for more savings and monitoring. Any imbalances between locations can be balanced out with other geographical locations.

Of course, one way we start monitoring the effectiveness of things is to do comparisons. The HERS Index is a Home Energy Rating. Typical homes these days rate at a 100 on the scale. These are the homes with typical energy connections that rely on power grids. The Whisper Valley homes have actually gotten down to a 7 on the scale.

The difference between these homes and previous forays into green energy is that the geothermal index that is being used exists in almost every part of the planet. The pipes are drilled down approximately 350 feet and that is all the temperature difference that is needed for the Austin area. This geothermal gradient is different across the world depending on mantle thickness and distance from the equator. However, the change in temperature is more related to the pressure associated with matter on top as you go deeper instead of geographical location.

We’ve got some new opportunities coming down the pipeline. Personally, I can’t wait to own a home where I don’t have to worry about a power grid. I’ve now lived through a Texas blizzard in Houston, surviving huddled on my couch with my animals and some candles. Here’s to the future.

Robert Raney is a geoscientist whose been writing and painting for years to get his creative fix in. While working on his thesis in theoretical planetary physics he was also creating fantastical worlds on paper for fun. He's an at home Texan Houstonite who currently works slinging drinks at a local LGBTQ+ bar in the gayborhood, when not fielding oil & gas jobs that have taken him around the world.

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