On December 8, 2006, Markus Häring caused some 30 earthquakes -- the largest registering 3.4 on the Richter scale -- in Basel, Switzerland. Häring is not a supervillain. He's a geologist, and he had nothing but good intentions when he injected high-pressure water into rocks three miles below the surface, attempting to generate electricity through a process called enhanced geothermal. But he produced earthquakes instead, and when seismic analysis confirmed that the quakes were centered near the drilling site, city officials charged him with $9 million worth of damage to buildings.
At the cusp of a new U.S. presidency, energy issues have been thrust full-force into the spotlight. Candidates talk a lot about alternatives like solar and wind, and even Clean Coal (systems that would capture carbon dioxide from coal plants to keep it out of the atmosphere). But alternative energy doesn't begin and end with these technologies.
Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) are another little-known option. Since early 2007, scientists have been trying to persuade government and industry to start experimenting with this kind of geothermal energy with limited success. But this fall, Google donated $10 million to a few EGS startup projects, and the Department of Energy also set aside more funds for geothermal research. With some pilots in early, early stages, it looks like EGS is finally taking off, albeit slowly.
But what are Enhanced Geothermal Systems, anyway? After the jump, a short primer in comic form.