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Geothermal steams ahead in Germany, US on fuel costs, emission controls

Homes in Unterhaching, a German town of 22,000 south of Munich, will be warmed by hot water piped from 3,300 meters underground starting in May.

They're at the leading edge of a shift toward geothermal power generation that may swell Germany's capacity 1,000-fold within a decade. „All the experts told us this was not possible,” said Christian Schoenwiesner-Bozkurt, manager of the community-owned project. Clean-energy subsidies introduced in 2004 made geothermal a cost-effective alternative to coal and gas, he said.

Tighter emissions controls and rising fuel costs are spurring demand for renewable energy, prompting utilities from the US to Indonesia and New Zealand to tap underground resources previously considered too costly to develop. Global geothermal capacity will rise as much as 10% a year through 2010, three times the pace of the past decade, the International Geothermal Association forecasts.

Geothermal plants, which use energy from hot springs or underground steam fields to produce power, aren't affected by oil prices, which doubled in the past three years, and they face no emission penalties. Unlike wind- or solar-powered plants, they're not weather-dependent and can run 24 hours a day. (Bloomberg)