Big Island’s Geothermal Energy in Jeopardy

Volcanic activity on Big Island has left residents wondering what will become of the “Puna Geothermal Venture”? As volcanic activity creeps closer to the site, many questions have been raised about the dangers of chemical exposure from this plant.

he Big Island’s geothermal energy provides a great deal of energy to the region, as well as jobs.

Geothermal energy is generated by harnessing steam and heat energy through a variety of methods.  The Puna Geothermal Venture produces energy in through this method. According to Hawaiian Electric, as heat rises from the earth, “the … steam from [a] turbine is used to vaporize (heat) an organic working fluid, which drives a second turbine, generating additional electricity.”  While this provides an excellent, reasonably priced, renewable energy source, there are several issues becoming relevant as the lava approaches.   Combustion is at the forefront of these issues.

The Governor of Hawaii has set up a special team to deal with the dangers associated with thermal energy production interacting with it’s very source of power. According to Governor Ige’s statement, he is putting his resources in to a team  that “will review and assess the existing PGV Emergency Response Plan and develop a specific mission strategy deemed appropriate to mitigate potential impacts from lava. Expected steps include addressing the supplies of pentane gas used in the production of geothermal power including options for off-site relocation or controlled leakage or burn.”

The pentene gas is part of the organic compound used to assist with steam generation, which is often used in gasoline compounds and processes.  The danger in using this is the combustive nature of this compound, and other compounds on site.

Big Island’s geothermal energy is certainly a step in the right direction for renewable resources, but as with all energy sources, there is an element of danger that comes from using conductive and combustive chemicals and materials.  We hope that Big Island makes it through Pele’s current barrage, and can continue to harvest the heat that rises from deep within the island.