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A geothermal plant on April 12, 2017, outside Myvatn, Iceland. Photo: Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

Less than a decade after it began its program to deploy geothermal energy on a massive scale, China now has the largest amount of geothermal district heating of any country in the world, providing a cleaner, more environmentally friendly way to heat communities and to mitigate the poor air quality that results from burning coal.

The big picture: First used in Idaho in the 1890s, geothermal works by recovering heat naturally stored in the earth. Unlike wind or solar, it provides a consistent, efficient and nearly emissions-free level of energy production when used for heating. While China and other countries push forward with geothermal technology, the U.S. lags far behind, meeting barely 0.01% of our heating demand with it.

Background: In recent decades, the U.S. has begun using wind and solar resources to substitute for coal- and gas-fired electricity generation, and to use biofuels in place of gasoline and diesel oil. These new technologies are important, but a completely low-carbon energy-system transformation should also include geothermal energy, especially since a fifth of the primary energy the U.S. consumes annually is for heating homes and water, and comes mainly from burning fossil fuels.

Many countries are already successfully taking advantage of geothermal district heating’s possibilities.

The opportunity: In the U.S., indigenous geothermal resources are well distributed and abundantly available at the right temperatures for heating buildings and water. Developing geothermal resources for district heating now would provide the U.S. with a viable and sustainable long-term replacement for fossil fuels.

Jeff Tester is Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems at Cornell University’s College of Engineering and Chief Scientist for Cornell’s Earth Source Heat initiative.

Go deeper

FBI conducts "court-authorized" search of Rep. Henry Cuellar's home

Rep. Henry Cuellar. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The FBI said it conducted a "court-authorized" search on Wednesday in the area of the Texas home of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

State of play: "The FBI was present in the vicinity of Windridge Drive and Estate Drive in Laredo conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity," an FBI spokesperson told Axios, adding that they "cannot provide further comment on an ongoing investigation."

Big Tech lobbies hard against looming antitrust bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Big Tech CEOs, including Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai, have been jawboning lawmakers as a Senate committee takes up a key antitrust bill Thursday.

Why it matters: The bill prompting this lobbying frenzy could upend how tech's giants do business, and tech's critics see this as a "now or never" moment for Congress to check the industry's power.

Biden stock market gets Trumped

Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

U.S. stocks markets performed worse during the first year of Joe Biden's presidency than during the first year of Donald Trump's presidency.

By the numbers: The S&P 500 rose 19.3% between the market close before Biden's inauguration and yesterday's market close, compared to a 24.1% increase for Trump during the similar period.