This week world leaders gather in Copenhagen to tackle the global warming crisis as the renewable energy community looks on

Copenhagen, having set a target of zero carbon emissions by 2025, is a leader in clean energy alternatives – key in addressing simultaneous climate and economic issues.

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Outside the Copenhagen harbor, press and delegates from near and far have a winning view of Denmark’s famous wind turbines and recognize them as a light of hope in this time of crisis. But they should also feel the geothermal heat that is part of the solution for Copenhagen and for cities and countries around the world.

It’s not well known that Denmark has two operating geothermal plants — one in Amager, which is part of Copenhagen, and the other in Thisted. According to Professor Hendrik Lund, Copenhagen could meet 50% of its district heating needs by using its geothermal resources. Anders Mathiesen of the Geologic Survey of Denmark wrote in a recent journal article, “…the geothermal resource in Denmark amounts to several hundred years of the present heat consumption and only a small fraction of this potential is utilised by the geothermal power plants in Thisted and Copenhagen.”

Despite its huge renewable energy potential, geothermal energy is often misunderstood or overlooked. It is an important and well-established source for electricity production and has an enormous variety of other uses, including school heating, district heating, fish farming, greenhouses, spas/resorts and small power production. These applications all make geothermal energy an important, adaptable, and growing energy resource for modern cities. Here are some examples.

Geothermal’s Top Cities

First, a couple of the better-known geothermal cities. If you happen to find yourself in conversation with any geothermal drillers or geologists, you’ll inevitably hear these names dropped. Here are some of the finest in geothermal municipal development.

Larderello, Italy. Many geothermal applications are so natural to use that they date as far back in history as does civilization itself. But the very first geothermal power plant opened at the turn of the century in Larderello. The grandfather of geothermal energy, Larderello is still a leader in its power generation today.

Reykjavik, Iceland. Reykjavik is the only metropolitan area in Iceland, with a population of 120,000. The Vikings who first settled there in the ninth century named it after the smoke they saw curling around the city — smoke which was actually steam rising from the ground. With this high level of geothermal activity and insightful developments by the Icelanders over the years, today 87% of Iceland’s buildings are heated geothermally. Iceland’s vast knowledge of the resource has been key in bringing the nation out of economic collapse. Reykjavik is famous in the geothermal world.

Reno, Nevada. The Steamboat complex in Reno, operated by Ormat Technologies, provides power to the city and is a familiar landmark to its residents. City and business leaders, encouraged by the success and remarkable potential of the energy source are marketing Reno as a geothermal center for industry activities, corporate offices, and research facilities. Reno has been the site of GEA’s Geothermal Energy Expo and GRC Annual Meetings for the past two years. Reno is well known in the geothermal industry, and their plan to become the geothermal capital of the U.S. may just be working.

Others on the Geothermal Path to Clean Energy

While cities like Reykjavik and Reno stand as tried-and-true geothermal fortifications, the excitement is really happening in diverse and unexpected pockets of the world.

Perth, Australia. Perth has declared its intention to enter the geothermal community with a new twist — as the very first geothermally cooled city. The Geothermal Centre of Excellence, a newly launched organization to study how geothermal can be applied in modern cities, is developing Australia’s first commercial geothermal-powered heating and air-conditioning units. The Centre will also identify deeper and hotter geothermal sources and incorporate geothermal power into existing desalination processes. The Centre will also develop geothermal energy university courses.

Xianyang, China. Xianyang was recently deemed “China’s Official Geothermal City.” Located in the Shaanxi province, Xianyang has a population of 4,800,000. It was the capital of China during the Qin Dynasty and has seen the discovery of palaces, workshops and tombs from that era. These days it has a massive geothermal heating project in place run by Shaanxi Green Energy. China, under close watch in Copenhagen, is the largest emissions-producing nation in the world and has set a target of 16% renewables by 2020 — up from 7% in 2005. Also of note, Beijing famously used geothermal pumps to power the 2008 Olympics.

Madrid, Spain. Madrid’s regional government is on board with 6 renewable energy projects in the works. One of these is a 8-MW geothermal district heating project. Though it is still in early stages, it’s exciting to see places like Madrid opening up and establishing a powerful project that will not only provide heating for businesses including government departments but will also pave the way for expansion of geothermal in the region.

Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. Masdar City in concept will be the world’s first planned zero-emissions city in the world. This goal to function 100% on renewable energy is a shining example to the world in itself; beyond this, the city plans to obtain half of its power from geothermal resources and has contracted with Reykjavik Geothermal to begin drilling exploratory wells for what would be the first geothermal power plant in the Gulf region.

Klamath Falls, Oregon. This remote town with its volcanic past is a thriving geothermal epicenter. The resource has been used for space heating since the turn of the century and for a variety of uses including heating homes, schools, businesses, swimming pools, and for snow melt systems for sidewalks and highway. There are over 550 geothermal wells in the town. In addition, the Oregon Institute of Technology — an organization that was sited in Klamath Falls in order to take advantage of the region’s geothermal energy potential — has been heated by the direct use of geothermal energy since 1964. All of the heating needs of the 11-building campus are supplied by three geothermal wells.

Is Geothermal Energy Available Where You Live?

Though it’s an underdog among renewable technologies, geothermal energy is popular and thriving. While hot spots of geologic activity are certainly more likely to be endowed with top-level reservoirs, applications of the energy source are available on some level virtually everywhere in the world. Developments in heat and power projects worldwide are updated each week in the Geothermal Energy Association’s newsletter, the Geothermal Energy Weekly. Visit GEA’s website here.

Do you have other stories of cities that build their energy literally from the ground up? Write in to the Geothermal Energy Association at research@geo-energy.org and tell us about your favorite geothermal city — your submissions could be featured in upcoming publications from GEA.

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