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Using energy from the Earth to power the Earth

As the climate warms, the need for clean, renewable energy grows. Now researchers here in Colorado are focusing on energy from deep within the Earth.

GOLDEN, Colo. — When you think renewable energy, the first things that likely come to mind are solar and wind. But there's another source of energy that comes from deep within our very own Earth.

It's called geothermal energy.

Amanda Kolker and a team of researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden are working on ways to make that always available heat available to everyone.

"We all know that the Earth gets hotter, as you go deeper into the core," said Kolker. "The surface of the core is actually the same temperature as the surface of the sun."

Large scale geothermal powerplants have been providing power for more than a century, but currently they can really only exist in areas where there are sources of hot water closer to the surface. Think geysers or hot springs.

"The way that geothermal has worked... for over a century now, is you bring up hot fluids, via wells, from reservoirs within the Earth," Kolker explained.

Those hot fluids produce steam that run a turbine which then runs a generator producing power. 

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So you need that water before you can do anything. Kolker and her team are inventing ways to bring that water to areas that don't have it and make the process much more small-scale.

"Some technologies we're looking at is creating geothermal reservoirs underground," Kolker said.

They have also found ways to tap into lower temperature Earth layers to produce energy, therefore  reducing the need to drill so far down. The goal is to capitalize on the natural heat from the Earth, a source of energy that is not only clean but always renewing itself.

And the idea is gaining attention. Governor Polis recently launched the "Heat Beneath our Feet" Initiative to encourage renewable geothermal energy generation in Colorado.

And just last month that 11 communities around the nation were chosen to receive support from the federal government to install community geothermal in their communities. Carbondale, Colorado was one of them.

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