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The search and utilization of geothermal energy commenced in Italy in the early 1900s. Today, Italy produces sufficient power from geothermal energy to operate its entire network of electric railroads. This amounts to approximately 400,000 kw.
One hundred areas in 15 different countries are being explored for geothermal energy. Other countries which are currently utilizing geothermal energy are: Iceland, for domestic and industrial heating; Japan, for electrical power and recovery of salt from sea water; and New Zealand, U.S.A., and Mexico for electrical power.
The Geysers area of northern California was first investigated for its geothermal potential in 1922. The project was not successful as there was sufficient electrical power being produced from fossil fuel and by hydroelectric plants.
The rapid industrialization and population explosion in the western states have led to an increase in demand for energy. From 1945 to 1960, electrical power production increased 239% for the nation and 252% in the western states. The FPC predicts a 275% rise nationally by 1980, based on 1960 power demands, with a forecast of 320% rise for the western states. To meet these demands for electrical power, all forms of energy known to man must be harnessed.
The first commercial geothermal power production, in the United States, began at The Geysers in 1960 at the rate of 12,500 kw. In April 1967 the capacity was increased to 56,000 kw. It is estimated that the capacity can be increased to 1,000,000 kw.
Recognizing geothermal energy as a source of power, the U.S. Geological Survey is conducting a nation-wide investigation of all geothermal areas which may have this potential. The state Bureaus of Mines of California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico have conducted their own studies to evaluate their geothermal areas.
Locating a geothermal area which may have commercial power potential is difficult. The most obvious areas of hot springs and geysers currently are being investigated. It is conceivable the areas which may hold the greatest potential cannot be detected at the surface.
The drilling and development of a geothermal area are extremely hazardous and expensive, but technical problems will be solved, and costs reduced, as future increased power demands escalates the exploration for geothermal power.
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