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?
I think that using a combination of alternative energy sources is going to be a better solution in the future. Each “green” energy source has its limitations, but if you combine solar with geothermal and wind, you have more potential and less disadvantages in the long run. It’s too bad that we’re really not moving in this direction yet.
I agree. There is never a one size solution that fits all. A combination would be the idea.. We just need people to get on the band wagon for them. You right, it is too bad we haven’t gotten farther with this by now.
I’m not an expert on green technology, but I believe there are even options for implementing a geothermal heating/cooling system for residential properties. One summer I lived with a guy while I was doing an internship and he was looking into them as an option when oil prices were so high. I believe there is a high upfront cost, but long term cost effectiveness.
You are right. They can be done in some residential areas. The thing is though that there needs to be enough space for the loops and it is hard to put them in on existing properties because it can mean lifting the house to fit the loops in. It works well in new developments. My family has worked in geothermal for the last 20 years so I have learned a fair bit. They are a great option for new buildings and businesses though.
No geothermal energy in my area, but I do like this form of alternative energy best. In fact I almost bought stock in a company that does this…
The great think is that with this form of energy, it can be continuous (until it cools).
Exactly. That is why it is sustainable. It essentially never runs out. The only issue is that you have to dig into the ground which can cause some issues with eco systems. Neat that you considered investing in it. I think it is a great technology to invest in as things like this will just get more mainstream as the years go by. We don’t have a choice.
I really like it, but is it that maintenance free? You can’t use geo thermal in California due to the frequent earth quakes right?
I am not so sure about that. I would think you still could but it would be best to talk to a specialist in your area. Where I live in Canada, this is not a concern. As far as maintenance, there isn’t a whole lot. No more than a furnace is.
We have geothermal heat in most of the new developments in my city, and we are within 200 miles of a huge wind farm. Neither of these help us right now, but it’s nice to see these options are getting closer!
That’s awesome. It sounds like you live in a pretty progressive city which is great to hear. Too bad you can’t leverage these sources yourself though. Maybe in the future you will be able to.
Hmmmm, I hadn’t realized that geo was being used for residential heating.
I often wonder what the effect (long term) of our (the human race) efforts will be on the planet. Even if we are being ‘green’ and eco friendly, we definitely change things in our environment. Can we say for sure there is absolutely no impact from releasing the steam from the earths mantle or using up the oil reserves or planting large portions of the planet with vegetation to use to make fuel…..who knows.
The first time I heard humans described as a plague on the earth I was ‘offended’, now I’m closer to ‘convinced’!
Very impressive statement Marie. You are right? We can’t be sure that even the so called “greenest” of technologies are 100% impact free. I think right now it is balancing the greatest impact with the least. As far humans being a plague to the planet, I would have to agree that I am also convinced. The damage we have caused even in the last 100 years is more than appalling. We have taken so much forgranted and we really have taken all we can without giving anything back. It’s a wonder we are still here as it is.
It is just too costly. This is main reason why many people cannot go green when it comes to alternative energy. If it was more affordable, I would seriously consider it.
I agree with you to some extent, that the initial costs are pricey. However, over the long term you do end up saving because the energy you do get goes farther. The main issue is because there hasn’t been as much demand yet (due to the corruption of the oil industry and the government if you ask me) and this lack of demand causes prices to be higher. If more consumers lobbied for these technologies, more companies would get on the horn and work to find a sellable product that people could afford. There are a lot of government programs depending on where you live that do provide some credit to homeowners for investing in these types of things which is a start but there aren’t enough to make it a possible solution for everyone.
As so many “green” sources of power end up causing some kind of environmental damage I hope that geothermal can be used as much as possible. Faced with several power source choices, each of which causes some kind of pollution, all we can do is employ those that are the least polluting as often as possible. At least I’d think that would be a good goal. The politics of it all could be something else.
I agree with you on both accounts. I was saying to Marie that it is really a balance between the most polluting and the least polluting because nothing seems to be 100% green. Geothermal is at least on the lesser end and therefore it should be one of the sources that is utilized the most. I also agree with you that there are a lot of politics involved and that until our governments cut their ties with oil companies, our countries won’t see a major shift in where we get our energy from.
They are building a geothermal plant east of where I live. It looks interesting, but there has been a lot of controversy around it.
Why the controversy? Is it because they are building it on land that could be used for something else or is it because people prefer energy from coal and oil? I think there are numerous areas of my city that would jump up and down with joy if a geothermal plant was built.
We had geothermal at our last house and it was amaaaaaaazing. Low utility bills and even heat and ac. It was fantastic.
Glad to hear you had such a positive experience with this type of technology. I think if people shared their stories about how they have really liked alternative power solutions, more people might get on board with it. Do you have it in your new place too?
I’ve invested a little bit in a small geothermal company. They are much like other natural resources mining companies in that there’s lots of drilling involved. As you correctly state, the drawbacks to geothermal is that it’s location-limited. Otherwise, the cost per megawatt hour is very competitive, right up there with hydro, nuclear and coal.
Glad to hear you have been investing in this technology. These companies need support like that from the public. As far as location, geothermal can be done in residential areas but it is much easier in a new developments where they can put the loops in before houses are built. It can be done for already existing homes but it is a bit trickier. Yes there is a lot of drilling involved and none of us can say this drilling is totally impact free but it is on the greener side when it comes to hurting the ozone and polluting our air. Like I was saying to Maggie and Marie, it is a balance between the most and least damaging because no technology is 100% green.
Unfortunately, No geothermal power in my area as much as I would have liked it. I like the fact that it esthetically prettier than wind turbines or solar panels since it’s in the form of a plant where all the power generation happens underground.
Too bad you don’t have access to this yet. You know you can put them in residential properties if you have enough space. Are you on a large lot? Are you building a house? If so you should definitely look into some residential units.