An Optometrist's View on Geothermal Energy

Larry Louie, an optometrist by trade leading a dual career as a photographer, travelled to Iceland to document the impact of geothermal energy, which is expanding at both an exhilarating and concerning pace.

Iceland-Proof-19.tif#asset:656:url© Larry Louie, from the series, Geothermal Energy

An optometrist from Edmonton, Canada, Larry Louie practices photography only a few weeks each year, while travelling 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 these geothermal plants that provide 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's potential. And thus, what was one of Europe's poorest countries, dependent upon peat and imported coal for its energy, became affluent 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, from the series, Geothermal Energy

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 salmon come up to spawn every year. Moreover, areas where large geothermal plants are constructed usually experience sinking of the land due to water being pumped out of the land to extract the energy, and this also has been know to cause more earthquakes.”

Iceland-Proof-5.tif#asset:654:url© Larry Louie, from the series, Geothermal Energy

Larry and Joanna have 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 mankind. In colour 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 over exploitation comes into the picture.

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Dr. Larry Louie is a Canadian optometrist and documentary photographer who combines his interests to promote the work of different charities around the world.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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Getting Closer presents photographic works, mainly in a documentary vein, that speak about the causes and consequences of environmental degradation.

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