Paul Hockenos, Yale Environment 360
The German state of Bavaria is embracing an ambitious program of tapping into geothermal reservoirs, with Munich hoping to make its heating system carbon-neutral by 2040. But given the expense of geothermal power, can it ever rival wind and solar as a renewable energy source?
Along a stretch of highway just outside the Bavarian market town of Holzkirchen lies an unremarkable cluster of two-story, wooden buildings, fenced off from a surrounding forest. As commuters pass on their way to Munich from the affluent towns tucked into the Alps foothills, they might not notice Geothermie Holzkirchen, a heating and power plant that occupies about two football fields and emits neither noise nor air pollution.
The Holzkirchen geothermal power plant is one of a half-dozen such unobtrusive facilities south of Munich, a city of 1.5 million that intends to be the world’s first municipality of its size to heat most of its homes and businesses with geothermal energy, thus make its entire heating system carbon-neutral by 2040. Some of the additional plants will be on Munich’s outskirts, where district heating grids will be linked with the Bavarian capital, while others will be in the heart of Munich’s busy downtown.