Dominating vistas around Italy's Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius erupted on August 24 in the year 79 AD, a cataclysm that brought an end to the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae and its denizens, preserving their remains in volcanic ash.
The looming presence of Vesuvius is a stark reminder of the destructive power of volcanoes for residents of Naples, as well as the vulnerability of populations around the world who reside in their presence. Today, however, the city of Naples is looking to tap into and harness Vesuvius' energy to improve lives, the environment and living conditions.
The largest volcano in Europe, Vesuvius is actually two volcanoes in one – the active Gran Como crater sits within that of inactive Mount Somma. Experts estimate that the energy produced in the Campi Flegrei, or Phlegraen Fields, a 13 kilometer (km) (7.8 mile) wide caldera and geothermal field west of Naples, is equivalent to that of four large nuclear power plants.
Speaking at The Environment, Peace, Geothermal Energy, Development and Labour conference held in Naples January 21, city officials announced a strategic sustainable development plan that would see the building of “a trigenerative pilot [geothermal heat and power] plant integrated with other sources, which in this case will be solar thermodynamic energy and liquid biomass, such as recycled vegetable oils and algae,” according to a report from ANSAmed.
Built with private funding, the pilot geothermal plant is slated to be the first of several small-scale heat and power plants to be built throughout Naples, a sustainable economic development initiative that falls in line with the European Initiative on Smart Cities program and Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Naples city councillor Antonio Luongo explained during the conference.
Naples' town council in August approved PAES, a strategic sustainable energy plan. “Geothermal energy is one of the sustainable type that we have the most of. Experts say that the geothermal potential in the Campi Flegrei is equal to the energy produced by four large nuclear power plants,'' Luongo was quoted as saying.
''In line with the PAES, the Town Council is taking serious action on these issues, in compliance with European directives and the Horizon 2020 as concerns the implementation of sustainable energies. Initially we will focus on heating and then on power production.''
Construction of the pilot geothermal heat and power plant is expected to take about six months. “I am convinced that with a democratic, non-invasive geothermal energy of the surface and with reinjection, new generation plants, we will be able to open up a new future for the city of Naples,” Luongo concluded, adding that he anticipates gaining the support of environmental organizations.
“From huge plants we have now moved to the development of systems with intermediate outputs, sometimes even at the household level, and it has been developed even in areas in which there aren't any volcanoes, simply by using the earth's [heat] gradient,'' added Marcello Martini, director of the Vesuvius Observatory, Osservatorio Vesuviano.
“On potential risks connected with the use of this type of energy, Martini said that ''it is necessary to look at them alongside the use made of them. We study the geothermal system from a volcanic point of view, but also for the possible use of this energy. Obviously, like everything human, how it is used also determines the safety of it.''
Image credit: stacymk11, courtesy flickr