Welcome to Devil’s Valley: The world’s oldest geothermal power plant


When you think of Tuscany, you probably think of rolling green hills, beautiful trees, and vineyards as far as the eye can see. But hidden in a place called ‘Devil’s Valley’ there is a different side to Tuscany. A dangerous and volatile side that is a hotbed of geothermal activity.

This valley is the home of the world’s oldest geothermal power station. Opened in 1913, the Larderello plant has been producing electricity ever since, harnessing the escaping natural gases that force themselves through cracks in the soil from the rocks below.

Pipes drilled deep into the ground at the site capture the naturally-produced steam from the rocks below, driving turbines in the power plant, thus producing electricity.

Devil’s Valley, situated in southern Tuscany between Pisa and Siena, is scarred by natural and artificial cracks from which hot steam and fluids emerge at temperatures that can reach between 130°C and 160°C.

The cultivation of this renewable underground resource has made it possible to transform a geographically harsh area of ​​Italy into one of the world’s most famous renewable energy sites. In fact, the Larderello power plant was the only commercial geothermal energy plant in the world until the opening of the Wairakei power station in New Zealand in 1958.

Now, there are over 25 geothermal power plants across the world, with potentially more to be built in order to harness an abundant and sustainable resource.

Devil’s Valley, Monterotondo Marittimo

A view of the Valle del Diavolo (Devil’s Valley), near the medieval town of Monterotondo Marittimo, Tuscany, Italy. In the centre of the image, plumes of natural gas escape from the soil below. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Larderello power plant

A general view of the Larderello power plant, the world’s first geothermal power plant which opened in 1913. The cooling towers can be seen on the right of the image. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Biancane geosite

Steam and fluids escape from the fractures of the rocks at the Biancane geosite, near Monterotondo Marittimo, Italy. The fluid escaping here has a temperature of about 110°C, and is composed of 95 per cent water vapour. The rest of the gases are a combination of carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Maintaining the turbines

Power plant worker Valerio performs the maintenance shift on one of the turbines of the Valle Secolo Power Plant in Larderello. The geothermal facility produces enough electricity to power 1 million homes in the surrounding areas. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Lake Boracifero

Steam rises from the geysers at San Federigo, near to Lago Boracifero, Tuscany, Italy. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Researching gases

Researchers from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) analyse the composition of the gas at the Biancane National Park. The park is a protected natural area full of geothermal activity. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

More images from Science Focus:

Extraction well

One of the extraction wells that flows into Monterotondo 1, near Monterodonto Marittimo, Italy. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Inside the cooling tower

Steam can be seen rising inside the natural draft cooling tower of Monterotondo 1, part of the Larderello power plant. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

GeoOrto farm

Nadia, a worker at the GeoOrto farm at Lago Boracifero, picks tomatoes during her shift. The farm is kept warm by the neighbouring geothermal plant. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Aerial view of Biancane

Aerial image of the southern area of the Biancane geosite, showing the white sulphurous rocks that have emerged as a result of geothermal activity underneath. The Romans used the hot natural sulphur springs for bathing, and has been used as an industrial base since the 19th Century. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

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