Did you know… that China is home to one of the oldest known geothermal pools in the world?
Huaqing Pool, located near Mount Li in the province of Shaanxi, China, has a long and storied history. The complex of hot springs has been in use for close to three millennia and was a famous getaway spot for multiple Chinese emperors. The ancient Chinese utilized the natural geothermal activity in the area for cleaning and bathing. Today geothermal energy is widely developed in China primarily for direct use and district heating. Moreover, the source of this heat relates to a dynamic geological history that includes the collision of continental plates which produced the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau.
The pools at Huaqing make up a large hot spring complex. The first stone pool was built during the Qin Dynasty from 206 BC to 220 AD, but the history of the site dates back even further, to the Western Zhou Dynasty, from 1046 to 771 BC. King You built the Li Palace in that era to enjoy the natural beauty, starting a long history of many emperors coming to visit. The area has been expanded since the original little stone pool was first constructed back in the Qin Dynasty. Today the site comprises many pools, historical sites, and even a daily performance! It’s a full-fledged tourist destination.
The Song of Everlasting Sorrow is a show performed daily during the warm months, between April and October. It tells the love story of Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei, with over 300 actors in extravagant costumes. It is also home to the beautiful Nine Dragon Lake. The glassy water surrounds nine stone dragon carvings and is home to Koi fish.
The five historical hot springs on the main site are not available for public use, but there are plenty of hotels and resorts in the surrounding area that are open to everyone. It’s easy to enjoy a day at the Huaqing Pools, learning about the long history of the area, before heading back to your resort to experience the same waters that the ancient Chinese emperors did thousands of years ago.
Did you know… New Zealand is home to a geothermal golf course?
Arikikapakapa is not your typical golf course. Located in Rotorua, New Zealand, the 18-hole course is referred to as a geothermal golfing experience. Along with the naturally abundant plant life, the geothermal activity in the area provides a beautiful landscape around the course. Steam vents can be seen while golfing, either from the Pohutu geyser, located nearby, or from the course itself!
The golf course is one of the oldest in the country, with roots dating back to 1902. The name Arikikapakapa comes from the Te Reo Māori (the language of New Zealand Māori) and means “the gentle sound of plopping mud”, which is a sound often heard by golfers while they play. The course is also referred to as the Rotorua Golf Club.
The course is a great place to go to relax and enjoy the geothermal atmosphere. The course owners publish a newsletter frequently, giving updates on the course and what’s going on at Arikikapakapa. The newsletter also includes some of the recent top scores from the course and results from the tournaments they host there.
Around the course, there are pools of boiling hot water. The water often steams up the course due to how hot it is. Dormant areas where there is no longer geothermal activity have been incorporated into the obstacles and challenges of this unique golf course.
The pumice rock present in the soil means that the grass can recover from rain quickly, as the water drains out faster than usual. Golfers can play even after it rains!
The Rotorua Golf Club blends geothermal activity with golf in a fun and interesting way. It brings a unique experience to the Central North Island of New Zealand. Good luck finding another golf course quite like this one! As it happens, you only have to drive down the road to find one in Wairakei and the other in Taupo. What a haven for geothermal golf.
Golfers enjoying the course in 1970 (Image via Flickr)
Did you know... there is a geothermal “ocean” in Utah?
Just 30 minutes from Salt Lake City is Utah’s very own “ocean”. Built out of natural hot springs is the Bonneville Seabase, where you can go snorkeling and scuba diving! You will also find many different types of tropical fish during your underwater expedition.
Seabase gets its name from Lake Bonneville, a massive lake that covered the western half of Utah, and parts of Idaho and Nevada until about 13,000 years ago. The owners of Seabase, Linda Nelson and George Sanders, bought the land in 1988. Back then, it was a muddy marsh land covered in garbage. Today there are four areas to train and test your diving skills.
The first is White Rock Bay. It is the best place to see the tropical fish that live at Bonneville. Due to multiple warm springs located there, White Rock Bay The best time to see all of the fish is during the winter months, as that is where they congregate to keep warm.
Second is Habitat Bay. The pool is a man-made area underwater where air used to be pumped in so people could breathe while diving. While air is not being pumped into the pool continuously anymore, a diver can request for it to be filled up temporarily. The pool also has a sunken boat that is used for training and platforms that are 24 ft (~7 m) deep which makes them perfect for open-water scuba training.
Next is the Trench. The Trench is where Seabase is kept natural. While it is somewhat shallow, there is an abundance of fauna and natural biology. Due to its length, the Trench is a great place to practice your fin kicks and swim some “laps”!
Finally, there is the Abyss. While it is 62 ft (~19 m) deep, it has been altitude adjusted to 84 ft (~26 m). The Abyss was built for deep water training and is a good place to try out your buoyancy skills. It is also great for learning about safety stops, the importance of buddy diving, and night/limited visibility skills.
As mentioned before, Bonneville Seabase has an abundance of marine life! The “ocean” has fish of all shapes and sizes, from the 50-pound grouper to the little mollies. They have schools of pinfish and two friendly cortez angels. While you are exploring the waters, you might also find butterfly fish, snappers, mullet, black drum, jacks, tunicates, grunts, and more!
Did you know... geothermal energy is growing flowers?
Newcastle, Utah is home to Milgro Nursery – and they use geothermal energy to power their greenhouses! In fact, their facility is one of the most successful geothermal energy applications for space heating in the United States.
Milgro Nursery first opened in 1980 in Oxnard, California, before opening a second location in Newcastle, Utah in 1991. It is a family-owned business and is one of the largest growers of chrysanthemums and poinsettias, along with various other plants, in the United States. They also grow a large variety of blooming plants, green plants, and succulents. Currently, the greenhouses grow over seven million potted plants per year. Milgro provides its plants to Walmart, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, and other major retailers.
The Newcastle greenhouses are located in a desert in southwestern Utah, along the southeast edge of the Escalante Valley. The desert has an elevation of around 5,300 ft (~1615 m), making it a prime location for geothermal heating. The combination of the geothermal system present and the relatively harsh outdoor weather conditions allows Milgro to manufacture almost any growing environment. High sunlight, cool temperatures, and geothermal energy make it cheaper to heat up the greenhouses than it is to use air conditioning to cool them down.
Though Milgro is located in a semi-arid desert, they are able to create humidity within the greenhouses. Had the greenhouses been located in a humid environment, it would be almost impossible to remove that humidity. The desert’s ample amount of sunlight also allows Milgro a more cost-effective control of crop lighting, given it is cheaper and easier to block light rather than create it. The location’s climate and Milgro’s use of geothermal energy assists in eliminating the use of fossil fuels, protecting the quality of the air, and conserving water.
During the first wave of the pandemic, millions of orders for Milgro plants were canceled, leaving with a massive amount of inventory – flowers that would only stay alive for a limited amount of time. To keep the flowers from going to waste, Milgro gave some to the residents of local nursing homes, hospital staff, and teachers – all for free! A personal friend of Milgro owner Cherilyn Smith, Jim Castimore, even drove a truck full of Milgro flowers to New York City and New Jersey.
Whatever the occasion, Milgro will have the geothermally-grown plants for you!
Milgro flowers at Trader Joe's.
Did you know... 20% of the Island of Hawai'i's power comes from geothermal energy?
Located in Puna (Kilauea East Rift Zone), is Hawai’i’s geothermal power plant, Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV). PGV has two air-cooled power plants, a binary system, and a combined cycle system. The plants together generate up to 38 megawatts of electricity. The first plant reached commercial operation in 1993, and the second followed in 2012. PVG is one of Ormat Technologies’ many global geothermal projects.
From 1997-2001, PGV replaced the burning of about 475,000 barrels of fuel oil a year. In that time period, the cost of one barrel was around $27.37, meaning PGV saved Hawaiian Electric about $13 million a year on fuel costs. The PVG plant reduces the amount of fuel oil that needs to be shipped from the refineries on O’ahu, which also then reduces the risk of oil spills.
The Puna Geothermal Venture originally generated electricity from 1993-2018, and comprised 31% of the electricity demand on the Island of Hawai’i (more than half of the island’s renewable energy production). However, in May of 2018, the Kilauea volcano erupted and the production field was partly buried beneath a lava flow causing the PVG power plant to shut down.
After two and a half years of work between Ormat Technologies and Hawaiian Electric, PVG resumed operations on November 5, 2020. Currently, the plant generates 24 megawatts of the original 38 MW. However, it still supplies around 20% of the power needs of the island.
The reappearance of geothermal energy on the island puts Hawai’i back on track to meet the goals established in the 2008 Hawai’i Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI). The HCEI is a partnership between the state of Hawai’i and the Federal U.S. Department of Energy and is an attempt to reduce Hawai’i’s use of petroleum and other fossil fuels for its energy needs. The initial goal was to have a 70% clean energy economy by 2030. Hawai’i’s renewable portfolio standard was amended to make Hawai’i the first state to have a legally required deadline of having 100% of its electricity come from renewable sources.
While geothermal energy currently only provides 5% of Hawai’i’s renewable electricity supplies, the reopening of PGV allows for even further development of the resource. The Hawai’i State Energy Office found in 2016 that the Island of Hawai’i may have more than 1,000 megawatts of geothermal reserves – enough to power Maui, the Big Island, and a quarter of O’ahu collectively.
Did you know... one of the world’s largest hot springs is in New Zealand?
Located in the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley near Rotorua, Frying Pan Lake is one of the world’s largest hot springs! It is also one of the youngest, with a precise birthdate of April 3, 1917, having filled and formed in the aftermath of a hydrothermal eruption that lasted three days.
The origin of the lake dates to the early morning hours of June 10, 1886, when Mount Tarawera came to life. This is New Zealand’s deadliest volcanic eruption, even if it was small in size and lasted just a few hours. A line of craters 16 km (~10 mi) long was the result. One, Echo Crater, which hosts Frying Pan Lake, was transformed in the years that followed into a flat-bottomed basin by the erosion-sedimentation of loose ash that blanketed the surrounding hillsides. Because of the steam vents that dotted the basin floor, it became known as Frying Pan Flat.
The hot lake covers an area of 38,000 m2 (~409,030 ft2) and reaches 15 m (45 ft) depth. Swirls of steam rise off the lake surface owing to the inflow of boiling water from four underwater vents. Hot water (50-60˚C; 122-140˚F) overflows the east side of the lake at up to 2000 gallons/minute.
Frying Pan Lake hosts a variety of thermophile organisms, including cyanobacteria and the single-celled archaea. These represent some of the earliest forms of life, making it a modern laboratory for field study of evolution in extreme conditions.
Waimangu is open to tourists. A self-guided nature walk takes one around the edge of Frying Pan Lake. Other amazing sights include the aqua-colored and hot Inferno crater lake, spouting hot springs, silica stalagtites, and Lake Rotomahana, which was the site of the famous Pink and White silica terraces.
Did you know... there’s a financial institution that’s banking on geothermal energy?
Located in Las Tablas, Madrid, Spain, the headquarters of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A.(BBVA), La Vela “The Sail”, is 93 m (~305 ft) high and has 19 floors. It resides in a 114,000 m2 (~1,227,086 ft2) office and service building complex, which includes seven more three-floor buildings. It is also heated and cooled using geothermal energy.
The headquarters were built with the sustainability criteria necessary to be deemed LEED gold certified, which is the strictest sustainable construction standard. La Vela and the other buildings were built using low environmental impact materials and have remote energy consumption monitoring technologies.
There are multiple renewable energy systems being used throughout the complex. Along with solar and water collection/recycling systems, the buildings have also installed closed-loop geothermal systems. The installation of these systems curbs the complex’s energy consumption by 8.3% and carbon emissions by 7.6%.
Did you know... there is a place where the bath water never gets cold?
Something you might not know about Bath, England is that it was named for the thermal hot springs used as Roman baths. The natural springs were first discovered by Prince Bladud and his pigs around 863 BC. It is said he was cured from a skin disease (leprosy) after bathing in the healing waters. Subsequently, the baths were used by the Celts, Saxons, Georgians, and, of course, the Romans.
In the 17th and 18th century fashionable society found it very popular to bathe in the hot springs because of the perceived health benefits.
In the heart of the city, there are three natural springs. The biggest and most notable one is the King’s Spring, which is located in the Roman Baths Museum. The other, smaller springs, Hetling Spring and Cross Bath Spring are about 150 m west of the King’s Spring.
The thermal waters contain dissolved salts from over 40 different minerals, leading to elevated concentrations of calcium, sulphate, and chloride. The deep mineral-rich water has a constant temperature of at least 45˚C (113˚F) and the flow is approximately one million liters per day, supplying the four baths at the Thermae Bath Spa.
The bath water comes from rainfall that percolates through the soil into the underground limestone aquifers between 2,700 and 4,300 meters (8,900 and 14,100 feet) deep. Once heated, the water becomes buoyant and it flows upwards through fissures and faults to reach the surface and the baths. The hydrothermal system that provides hot water to the baths resembles an Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS), wherein hot rocks transfer energy to cold water to create geothermal power.
Did you know… three of the largest geothermal power plants in the world are found in Indonesia?
Indonesia is home to beautiful tropical islands, a rich and vibrant culture, and geothermal power plants! The first exploration geothermal wells were drilled in the 1920s, but the first power production did not start until 1978 at Kamojang. Today, there are over 17 producing fields, including three of the world’s largest.
The biggest is called Gunung Salak, which is located 70 km from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, on the island of Java with an installed capacity of 377 MW. The field was drilled and put into production by Unocal in 1994 and later acquired by Chevron in 2005. In December of 2016, the field was taken over by Star Energy. Electricity is generated and sold by the state-owned company, PLN.
The second biggest field is Sarulla. It generates 330 MW of electricity and is based in the Tapanuli Utara district of the North Sumatra Province. The project is owned by the Sarulla Operations Limited consortium and electricity is generated by three units of 110 MW each. The first unit was commissioned in March of 2017 and the second in October of the same year. The third unit was commissioned in May of 2018. Geothermal power supplies electricity to approximately 2.1 million homes.
The third largest geothermal project is Darajat which is located 270 km southeast of Jakarata near Garut in the Parirwangi District of West Java. The installed capacity is 271 MW and the resource was initially developed by Amoseas, later acquired by Chevron and since 2016 it has been run by Star Energy. The first power generation commenced in 1994, with the commissioning of a 55 MW unit. A 95 MW unit was commissioned in 2000 and a third unit capable of generating 121 MW was commissioned in 2007.
It is no wonder Indonesia is the second largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, with huge potential for additional growth.
Did you know… Italy is home to the oldest geothermal plant in the world?
The first geothermal plant in the world is located in Tuscany, Italy.
The Larderello geothermal plant was constructed in the early twentieth century thanks to Prince Piero Ginori Conti of Trevignano. Through his work in the processing of boric acid, Conti found his way into the world of geothermal energy and, in 1904, created the first geothermal energy generator.
Stationed in the Larderello dry steam field, his generator could produce up to 10 kW of energy. It also powered five light bulbs.
From there, Larderello’s geothermal potential expanded. In 1911, in an area called Devil’s Valley, construction of a geothermal plant was begun. The plant was completed in 1913.
That first plant, Larderello 1, had a capacity of 250 kW and could produce 2750 kW of electricity. That electricity powered the Italian railway system as well as the nearby villages of Volterra and Larderello.
The original plant has been gradually expanded over the years and now consists of 34 plants, which are operated by the Italian company Enel Green Power, or EGP. The site has a capacity of 800MW, which has resulted in Italy becoming the sixth-largest geothermal energy producer in the world.