A Guide to Geothermal Energy

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Category: Home Utilities
Posted on: 05/27/2021
A couple standing in front of a steaming hot spring with a small power plant and a mountain in the background

With the health of our planet being an urgent concern, people are doing their best to turn to renewable resources. Since power is one of the most used utilities on the planet, is it time to turn to geothermal energy as our primary power source? 

You may have recently heard about the use of geothermal energy as an environmentally conscious power resource and how it is making waves across the world. You may be wondering what exactly geothermal energy is, how it can be used, how it is currently used in different areas of the world, and what the future of geothermal energy holds as an earth-friendly power source.

Geothermal energy is helping people across the world get power in the form of heat and electricity in a better, more renewable way. It is becoming more important to the world than ever as people see the need for more sustainable resources in every aspect of life.

What Is Geothermal Energy?

To fully understand geothermal energy, it is important to start by understanding the definition of thermal energy. The definition of thermal energy is simply that a specific object or system has an internal temperature that is able to be found when measured. In the same vein, geothermal energy is a specific type of energy stored and generated deep inside the earth. 

The word geothermal is derived from the Greek language: geo means earth, and therme means heat. Geothermal energy exists because of the constant radioactive decay of particles in the earth’s core. 

How Geothermal Energy Is Used

Across the world, geothermal energy is used as a multi-beneficial source of power. It is cost-effective, dependable, sustainable, and ecological. It is a renewal resource for energy production because the earth is constantly producing heat. Geothermal power plants have low levels of emissions, and they harness geothermal energy to produce clean electricity.

Geothermal power plants utilize water and steam beneath the earth’s surface, typically in the form of naturally occurring geothermal reservoirs that are no more than two miles below the earth’s surface. These geothermal reservoirs help us to produce electricity and heat responsibly. Geothermal power plants utilize geothermal energy for a variety of uses and applications, including:

  • Direct power
  • District heating
  • Space heating
  • Spas
  • Industrial applications, including food dehydration, milk pasteurization, and gold mining
  • Desalination
  • Agriculture
  • Electricity generating power plants
  • Heat pumps

To generate electricity through geothermal energy, the temperature of the water or steam being utilized must be between 300ºF and 700ºF. It can also be cooled at the end of production to be used as a cooling energy source and a production well for future applications.

Examples of Geothermal Energy in the World

The use of geothermal energy dates back to Paleolithic times. Ancient Romans, as well as Chinese and Native Americans, used hot springs (or geothermally heated groundwater) to bathe in and for cooking and heating. While bathing in hot springs is still thoroughly enjoyed today, we now realize that these types of sources can also be utilized to produce both power and heat sustainably.

The United States generates the most electricity using geothermal energy through geothermal power plants in seven states: California, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, Oregon, Idaho, and New Mexico. In these states, the geothermal resources are nearest to the earth’s surface. California is the largest electricity producer of geothermal energy, where the world’s largest dry steam reservoir is located and used for power production. 

In 2016, 23 countries were using geothermal energy to generate electricity, and the Philippines is the second-largest producer behind the United States. Iceland is a hub for geothermal energy globally. It has an advantage over other countries and areas in the world for generating geothermal energy since it is in a place where there is a large density of volcanoes present.

In Reykjavik, Iceland, a geothermal power plant called Reykjavik Energy uses low-temperature and high-temperature geothermal fields both for producing electricity and direct heating through district heating systems. Hot water is transferred from the geothermal power plant straight into the city’s buildings through district heating systems. In Reykjavik, some sidewalks are even heated during the winter. Additionally, the Svartsengi Power Plant in Iceland produces both electricity and near-boiling water to heat up the Blue Lagoon.

The Future of Geothermal Energy

Geothermal resources are hypothetically able to meet and exceed the world’s power requirements, but a few things stand in the way of this type of energy being the primary source of power in the world. First, geothermal energy is only found in specific areas, and second, many additional costs come with it.

One of the most significant limitations of geothermal energy being used as the main power resource in the world is that the most reliable and active geothermal energy resources are found in tectonic plate boundary areas – typically in areas where a high number of volcanoes are present. This is because magma is near the edges of tectonic plates, resulting in the high temperatures needed to produce electricity from geothermal energy. In addition, many geothermal areas in the United States are in law-protected areas in national parks, causing an unfortunate roadblock.

Additionally, to fully utilize geothermal energy to power our planet, the process of drilling and testing to find adequate geothermal resources, such as geothermal reservoirs, deep beneath the earth’s surface is an expensive endeavor. Beyond the upfront expenses needed to find sufficient geothermal resources, using geothermal energy as the primary power source in the world would be more costly for consumers. However, people have said that they would pay a little extra for a more sustainable energy source.

Would you pay more to help the world get more sustainable energy through geothermal energy? It will be exciting to see how the use of geothermal energy develops around the world. With a little bit of help, our entire planet can fully benefit from this amazing renewable resource.

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