Visiting The Geysers

26 Aug

I just returned from northern California, where I’d gone to tour The Geysers–an area two hours north of San Francisco that’s home to several geothermal power plants owned by the Calpine Corporation.  Unlike wind and solar, geothermal plants are largely invisible, hidden away in remote areas, much like coal power plants.  And, of course, the source of energy–geothermal steam–comes from underground, so there’s not much to actually see.

The power plants themselves, though, are fascinating.  Here are some pictures from my visit.

Here’s a geothermal well–pretty much just an insulated tube stuck into the ground up through which steam comes rushing.

The steam snakes through a series of pipes that runs throughout The Geysers.  These pipes condense steam from nearby wells and send it to one of the small power plants.

Inside the plant, the steam is used to run a turbine to generate electricity. It’s the same principle at work at a coal-fired power plant.  Except in a geothermal plant there are no CO2 emissions. An average plant at the Geysers makes about 75MW of electricity, which is sent to the local grid.

Once the steam has been used to spin the turbine, it’s condensed into water and sent here, where the water cools and is sent back to the wells to generate more steam.

Two guys who work at one of the plants. Most geothermal plants at The Geysers are “one-man plants,” meaning that there’s only only operator on hand at a time.  That speaks to the basic simplicity of how a geothermal plant works.

Gas mixed in with the steam is scrubbed before being either burned off or allowed to dissipate into the atmosphere.  This is sulfur harvested from geothermal gas.  The plant sells it as fertilizer material.

A Long view of one of the plants.

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One Response to “Visiting The Geysers”

  1. Stephanie May 24, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    This type of system doesn’t use steam. We place pipes just below the frost line where tetmuraperes remain constant all year round. These pipes collect low temp heat (roughly 55 F) from the ground and concentrates it with a compressor to heat your home. To cool, it removes heat from your house and moves it back into the ground. The EPA and DOE call this type of system the most environmentally friendly, cost effective way to condition a building. Visit our website for more details.

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