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Welcome to the Steam-Powered Suburbs

From Austin to Atlanta, planned communities are tapping into geothermal power—and it has applications for denser urban neighborhoods, too.
Geothermal energy, harnessed through stations such as Hellisheidi, near Reykjavik, accounts for about a quarter of Iceland's power.
Geothermal energy, harnessed through stations such as Hellisheidi, near Reykjavik, accounts for about a quarter of Iceland's power.Jemima Kelly/Reuters

Geothermal power is heating up around the world. It accounts for a quarter of Iceland’s total electricity production. On Long Island, National Grid and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority kicked off a pilot program last month, using geothermal energy to power 10 homes. Cornell University has considered converting its HVAC system to it. Boise, Idaho, uses geothermal for 91 government and commercial buildings, totaling 5 million square feet of space. Supported by a geothermal fund, the city incentivizes developers to embrace geothermal power.

Even so, this energy type comprises a sliver of electricity in the U.S. In 2013, it provided just 0.4 percent of the total generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.