What is Geothermal Power?
Geothermal power refers to the process of using steam or heat that is found trapped beneath the Earth’s surface, to manufacture energy. It is a viable form of alternative energy production compared to those that use fossil fuels; it is a sustainable option because the water is returned underground when it has been used.
Hot springshave been used by humans for therapeutic bathing since prehistoric times and the Roman baths of ancientRomeare the story of legends. The Romans also used the heat from these underground reservoirs to warm their homes. In modern times, twenty-four countries produce geothermal energy for electricity. In addition to this important source of power, heated bathing is still enjoyed and the waters are considered to be therapeutic. Geothermal power is used for heating in homes, public buildings and manufacturing. Glasshouses are heated to allow agriculture to be carried on in cold environments. In some cold areas, geothermal energy is used to heat the roads and sidewalks to keep them passable during long, cold winters.
There is some controversy about the expected lifespan of geothermal reservoirs. It is not known how long the reservoirs retain their heat after being tapped into for power usage. It is mainly a large-scale operation, needing heavy drilling equipment and large machinery to access the steam and heat. Some smaller enterprises do exist that have been able to access reservoirs closer to the surface.
How Geothermal Power is Produced?
Holes are drilled deep into the Earth’s crust to reach pockets of steam that have formed due to the intense temperatures found close to the centre of the planet. Cold water is pumped into a specially dug well; as it passes over the intense heat of the rocks found at this depth of the earth, the water is heated. When the water is forced back to the surface, it is captured as steam, which is then used to drive turbines that produce electricity.
The Advantages of Geothermal Power
There are no waste products produced during the geothermal power generation process, making it extremely environmentally-friendly. The production of this type of energy does not use any fossil fuels and does not always emit any greenhouse gases. Once constructed and the process is operating, there is little maintenance needed and the geothermal plant is self-sufficient. The plants are not necessarily very large and so they have minimal impact on the environment and local habitats. Where temperatures are too low to produce electricity (below 300 degrees F), there is still the potential for direct usage applications.
The Disadvantages of Geothermal Power
The main disadvantage is that there are limited locations where a geothermal power plant can be located. Considerable geological surveys have to be performed to make sure that there is a good amount of the hot rocks and steam in a given location and that they are at a drillable depth.
There is the possibility that toxic gases could escape from drill sites that are not in the correct locations. There is also the potential for pollution if the drilling is not carried out correctly. Even when a geothermal power plant has been successfully established, it is not known how long the heat and steam will last. Once these important elements are gone, the plant is no longer able to be used.
What is the Future of Geothermal Power?
Because geothermal power production is reliable, cost-effective, sustainable and non-polluting, it is envisaged that it will have an important role to play in the future. Even though the actual locations where power plants can be established are limited by geological factors, it is expected that there will an increase in geothermal power plants being established where possible. While some greenhouse gases may be released during the production of power, these are at a much lower limit than if the power plant was run by fossil fuels. It is therefore considered that geothermal power production could supply part of the answer to slow global warming.
So, is geothermal power an option in your community? What is your opinion on it as a renewable energy source?