It’s no surprise to hear that our planet is quickly running out of crude oil, coal, and other fossil fuels. In an effort to find as much of these forms of energy as possible, many companies are drilling deeper, using new and more damaging technologies, and encroaching upon protected wilderness lands. Now, more and more people are turning to renewable energy sources for their fuel and electricity instead. These resources have a much smaller impact on the environment because they come from the sun, the wind, and other sources of energy that naturally replenish themselves and never run out. One form of renewable energy that has become popular in recent years is geothermal energy, which uses the earth’s core temperature to produce energy.
What is Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal energy is produced by the molten core of the Earth and released through the surface. As a result of this heat, the upper 10 feet of the Earth’s surface maintain a constant temperature of between 50° and 60°F. Geothermal heat pumps can use the steam and sometimes even the water itself created by this surface heat to produce energy for homes, businesses, and other applications.
Geothermal energy can be captured through hot springs, which generate steam and water that can be used to drive electric generators. However, many geothermal power plants drill their own holes into the rock to catch this steam effectively. The steam is then returned to the earth as warm water, helping prolong the life of the hot spring and its ability to generate electricity. There are several types of geothermal energy generators, each of which is best suited to different uses, making it easy to find the most effective generator for a particular purpose.
A Sustainable Source of Energy
Geothermal energy is an excellent renewable energy source. The Earth’s core generates an almost unlimited amount of heat and will continue doing so for as long as the planet is able to sustain itself. It is available in areas with naturally occuring hot springs, such as the western U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii. However, with limited environmental impact, geothermal heat pumps can be installed almost anywhere in the world by drilling strategic holes into the Earth’s surface. Hot dry rock and magma can also be used to generate energy.
Geothermal energy is also easily replenished. Most generators now ensure that water is returned to the springs after it is used, helping the springs regenerate themselves over time and can continue to be used for energy. For example, the city of Santa Rosa, Calif. sends treated wastewater to a plant to be reinjected into the plant’s system to help prolong the life of the reservoir.
Applications of Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy is currently being used for a wide range of applications in over 20 countries throughout the world. In fact, in ancient times the hot water produced from naturally occuring springs was used for bathing, cooking, and heating.
Now, geothermal energy can be used to generate power in place of fossil fuels, including in various factory environments. For example, it is often used in paper and wood production facilities, which use the heat from geothermal energy to dry timber and create paper and wood pulp. Hydrothermal water can also be used to heat and cool houses and commercial buildings through pipe systems, instead of using traditional central air and heating methods.
Geothermal energy also has an impact on how food is grown. The warm water can be used to heat small greenhouses, allowing for the production of out of season vegetables and fruits. Hungary and Italy are among the top countries using geothermal energy to grow more produce within their borders, rather than importing expensive fruits and vegetables from overseas during off seasons. Warm, geothermal water has also been used to heat shrimp farms, creating an even more sustainable way to produce seafood.
In cold areas, keeping roads clear of ice and snow can be a time consuming and expensive, but necessary, task. Certain countries, including the Netherlands, have begun using pipes installed below streets to heat the pavement and melt the snow using geothermal energy.
Why Use Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal energy has the potential to meet the annual needs of more than 6 million households in the U.S., and it currently accounts for more than 25 percent of the electricity produced in both Iceland and El Salvador. It is one of the most sustainable forms of energy available today, with no danger of becoming depleted or unstable over time.
Unlike fossil fuels, there is no combustion required in order to use geothermal energy. As a result, geothermal plants produce minimal amounts of greenhouse gasses that have the potential to change the climate. They also require small amounts of electricity and land in order to function properly.
For homeowners and business owners, using geothermal energy can reduce their electric bills. While there may be a high upfront cost when installing a geothermal energy unit, utility bills can be reduced by up to 50% over time and typically require only a small amount of maintenance over time.
Wind and solar power, while popular forms of renewable energy, can become depleted depending on the amount of wind and sun available at a given time. Storing energy produced from these renewable energy sources can be expensive. With geothermal energy, however, this problem disappears. Geothermal power is available all over the world, regardless of the conditions, because the Earth’s ground temperature never fluctuates significantly enough to affect the output of energy. As a result, geothermal power is one of the most consistent forms of renewable energy available, giving it a significant advantage over popular solar and wind energy.
Thanks to increasing amounts of research and development being conducted today, geothermal energy continues to evolve. This can make geothermal energy an even more prominent and accessible source of renewable energy in the future, with cheaper startup costs that allow more people to make the switch from traditional fossil fuels to a cheaper, safer, and less damaging type of energy for their daily lives.