David Suzuki: Tapping Earth’s Abundant Geothermal Energy
In the midst of controversy over BC's Peace River Site C dam project, the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association released a study showing the province could get the same amount of energy more affordably from geothermal sources for about half the construction costs. Unlike Site C, geothermal wouldn't require massive transmission upgrades, would be less environmentally disruptive and would create more jobs throughout the province rather than just in one area.
Despite the many benefits of geothermal, Canada is the only “Pacific Ring of Fire" country that doesn't use it for commercial-scale energy. According to DeSmogBlog, “New Zealand, Indonesia, the Philippines, the U.S. and Mexico all have commercial geothermal plants." Iceland heats up to 90 percent of its homes and supplies 25 percent of its electricity, with geothermal.
Geothermal energy is generated by heat from Earth's rocks, liquids and steam. It can come from shallow ground, where the temperature is a steady 10 to 16 C, hot water and rocks deeper in the ground or possibly very hot molten rock (magma) deep below Earth's surface. As with clean-energy sources like solar, geothermal energy systems vary, from those that use hot water from the ground directly to heat buildings, greenhouses and water, to those that pump underground hot water or steam to drive turbines. The David Suzuki Foundation's Vancouver and Montreal offices use geothermal.
According to National Geographic, geothermal power plants use three methods to produce electricity: dry steam, flash steam and binary cycle. Dry steam uses steam from fractures in the ground. “Flash plants pull deep, high-pressure hot water into cooler, low-pressure water," which creates steam. In binary plants, which produce no greenhouse gas emissions and will likely become dominant, “hot water is passed by a secondary fluid with a much lower boiling point," which turns the secondary fluid into vapor.
Unlike wind and solar, geothermal provides steady energy and can serve as a more cost-effective and less environmentally damaging form of baseload power than fossil fuels or nuclear. It's not entirely without environmental impacts, but most are minor and can be overcome with good planning and siting. Geothermal fluids can contain gases and heavy metals, but most new systems recycle them back into the ground. Operations should also be located to avoid mixing geothermal liquids with groundwater and to eliminate impacts on nearby natural features like hot springs. Some geothermal plants can produce small amounts of CO2, but binary systems are emissions-free. In some cases, resources that provide heat can become depleted over time.
Although geothermal potential has been constrained by the need to locate operations in areas with high volcanic activity, geysers or hot springs, new developments are making it more widely viable. One controversial method being tested is similar to “fracking" for oil and gas. Water is injected into a well with enough pressure to break rock and release heat to produce hot water and steam to generate power through a turbine or binary system.
Researchers have also been studying urban “heat islands" as sources of geothermal energy. Urban areas are warmer than their rural surroundings, both above and below ground, because of the effects of buildings, basements and sewage and water systems. Geothermal pumps could make the underground energy available to heat buildings in winter and cool them in summer.
New methods of getting energy from the ground could also give geothermal a boost. Entrepreneur Manoj Bhargava is working with researchers to bring heat to the surface using graphene cords rather than steam or hot water. Graphene is stronger than steel and conducts heat well. Bhargava says the technology would be simple to develop and could be integrated with existing power grids.
Unfortunately, geothermal hasn't received the same level of government support as other sources of energy, including fossil fuels and nuclear. That's partly because upfront costs are high and, as with oil and gas exploration, geothermal sources aren't always located where developers hope they'll be. As DeSmogBlog notes, resources are often found in areas that already have access to inexpensive hydro power.
Rapid advancements in renewable-energy and power-grid technologies could put the world on track to a mix of clean sources fairly quickly—which is absolutely necessary to curtail global warming. Geothermal energy should be part of that mix.
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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