Location of geothermal resources

The easiest geothermal resources to exploit are those that can provide water or steam with a temperature above 200°C. Resources of this type are located almost exclusively along the boundaries between the earth's crustal plates, in regions where there is significant plate movement. These areas are found around the Pacific Ocean in New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines and the western coasts of North and South America, in the central and eastern parts of the Mediterranean, east Africa, the Azores and Iceland.3

Lower-temperature underground reservoirs exist in many other parts of the world and though these contain less energy they can be used to generate electricity too. A project installed in Austria in 2001, for example, generates electricity from 106°C water which is also used for district heating. However these reservoirs can be more difficult to locate in the absence of hot surface springs. Nevertheless there were around 60 countries using geothermal energy at the beginning of the twenty-first century for either heating, generating electricity or both.

Today it is difficult to estimate the size of this energy resource but as survey techniques improve, more accurate data will become available. Based on data available at the beginning of the twenty-first century, reservoirs located in the USA, for example, could provide 10% of the US electricity. The world geothermal resource based on underground reservoirs is probably larger than the combined size of coal, oil, gas and uranium reserves.

Hot underground rock is even more widespread and the amount of energy contained in these rocks is enormous. However its exploitation will require the development of hot-dry-rock technology. This technology is still in its early stages, as outlined above. Magma resources are also likely to be widespread but the extent of the resource has not been widely explored.

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