An Optometrist's View on Geothermal Energy

The Atkins Ciwen Environmental Photographer of the Year recently shortlisted Larry Louie for his project in Iceland about geothermal energy, which is expanding at both an exhilarating and concerning pace.

Iceland-Proof-19.tif#asset:656:url© Larry Louie

One of the surprises of the Atkins Ciwen environmental photography of the year shortlist was Larry Louie. An optometrist from Edmonton, Canada, he practices photography only a few weeks a year, while traveling mostly across South-East Asia to provide free eye care. “For once, my wife and I went to Iceland for holiday. We were spending our time exploring the country and noticed this geothermal plants that provides energy to the entire country”, Louie explains.

Geothermal energy is generated and stored in the Earth, in the form of heat that circulates from the core to the surface, and Iceland has been a pioneer in harnessing it. And thus, what was one of Europe's poorest countries, dependent upon peat and imported coal for its energy, became a country with a high standard of living where practically all stationary energy is derived from indigenous renewable resources.

Iceland-Proof-13.tif#asset:655:url© Larry Louie

Motivated by economic and environmental purposes, there are now talks to expand the use of this energy to other European countries, which is not without causing worry. “As we hiked in land and onto glaciers, our local guides all voiced a real concern about the government that want to harness all the energy that is given off by the earth - in particular water and geothermal energy -, without thinking too much about the environmental impact that these energy plants might cause to the delicate nature in the area”, Joanna Wong-Louie, Larry’s wife, continues. “Harnessing hydro electricity from certain waterfalls may be detrimental to the many streams that the salmons come up to spawn every year. Moreover, areas where large geothermal plants are constructed usually experience sinking of the land due to water being pump out of the land to extract the energy, and this also has been know to cause more earthquakes.

Larry and Joanna just started to tackle the issue. Nonetheless, their photographs convey a great sense of the paradoxical aspect of nature – both stunningly powerful and fragile when within the hands of men. In color for the first time, they spark the various tonalities of blue spread across the volcanic island, revealing a monochromatic landscape that seems untouched. Even the massive structure of the power plants - metallic colossi rising among eternal giants - don’t seem to affect the clean wilderness of the land. “There is a rawness and exhilaration that is 100% pure mother nature and mostly untouched by man”, Joanna describes. This is, until overexploitation comes into the picture.

Iceland-Proof-5.tif#asset:654:url© Larry Louie

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Dr. Larry Louie is an optometrist in Canada but he is also a travel and documentary photographer who has managed to combined his interests to promote the work of different charities around the world. To learn more about Larry Louie, visit his PHM profile

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