For any oil and gas companies that remain reluctant to dip their toes into the geothermal business — or indeed other renewable sectors — perhaps they should look to the fictional past for what the future may hold.
In the 1940s, Isaac Asimov, the hugely successful Russian-American science fiction writer and futurist — probably most well-known for his three laws of robotics — penned what would be the beginnings of his Foundation series of books with tales centred on the planet of Trantor, capital of the Galactic Empire.
Less than half the size of Earth, this imagined world supported a planet-wide underground city of 45 billion humans whose chief source of power was what Asimov described as “heatsinks” — essentially geothermal energy sourced from the planet’s inner core.
Trantorians also generated hydroelectric power from underground rivers, partly relied on nuclear fusion and received energy from solar panels installed on surface buildings and from satellite solar arrays. A veritable dreamland for today's advocates of renewables.
Ajit Menon, Baker Hughes’ head of geothermal and energy transition, highlighted Asimov’s energy writing during a keynote speech last month at the World Geothermal Congress in Iceland.
“I am a science fiction geek and have read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series where geothermal energy is powering a planet.”
He said even though the author’s books were written years ago, “their premise is certainly not science fiction, considering where we are today and what Iceland has done with geothermal”.
Intrigued by Menon’s comments, Upstream did a little homework on Asimov and found out he was also a prolific essayist who wrote some 1600 articles between 1959 and 1992 about a litany of subjects — geothermal energy, nuclear fusion, solar power, batteries, the problem of garbage, population growth... oh, and fossil fuels. The topics do not end there!
Asimov was also aware of climate change too, saying in a 1989 television interview that he had been talking about the effects of coal, oil and gas consumption for at least the previous 20 years, stressing that if the world continued to emit carbon dioxide and cut down forests, then the “greenhouse effect” would be exacerbated.
Perhaps the insight of polymath visionaries such as Asimov should be taken more seriously — there may be much to learn.
Unfortunately, Upstream cannot access online copies of his energy essays — many were written for American Airlines’ in-flight magazine — so any input from mile-high sci-fi fans would be welcome!
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