Quick Guide to Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy can be employed by extracting heat underneath the Earth’s surface to generate electricity as well as for heating and cooling purposes. Compared to wind and solar energy, geothermal energy does not depend on climatic changes or weather fluctuations which means that it is available 24/7. Earth has an unending quantity of tremendously hot gases in its core for generating geothermal energy that is yet to be utilized to the fullest for the goodness of mankind. Very few countries, with the United States leading this group, have actually started harnessing it. Here is a quick guide to geothermal energy.

Geothermal Energy

Working Principle

Temperatures at approximately 4000 miles below the Earth’s surface touch around 9000 degrees Fahrenheit. This massive volume of heat that originated some four billion years ago during our planet’s creation, is actually the earth’s inner core’s radioactive decay that continues generating heat that flows from this inner core to the outward mantle of harder rock surrounding the core. As the temperature and pressure touch higher thresholds, some mantle rock melts rising slowly upwards the Earth’s crust. This magma and the water trapped within the rock form a natural and sustainable underground geothermal reservoir that can be well utilized for our energy needs.

How to Utilize Geothermal Energy

Installation of geothermal heat pumps for heating/cooling purposes helps us use geothermal energy. Compared to standard heating and cooling systems, geothermal heat pumps score high on their efficiency. They move heat bilaterally: in hot summer months, the pump removes heat from the edifice and dissipates it back into the ground, whereas in cool winter months, heat is withdrawn from the heat source – ground, and utilized to heat building. Geothermal electricity is used for electricity generation thus: the severely hot underground water is pumped to surface where it turns into steam. This steam is in turn used to power the turbines to generate electricity.

Geothermal Emissions Don’t Harm

The trails that are visible from some of the towering geothermal power plants are not smoke, but actually steam- the water vapor emissions. In geothermal power plants there is no burning of fuel (e.g. fossil fuel plants), hence virtually no air emissions. Another significant environmental benefit from geothermal plants is their very minimal contribution to noise pollution that can be compared to just the rustling of leaves from breeze.

Water and Land Use

A typical geothermal plant uses 5 gallons’ freshwater for every megawatt hour, whereas a binary air-cooled plant uses no fresh water. That translates into more than 360 gallons for each megawatt hour being used by natural gas facilities. Besides, a geothermal power plant can be designed such as to adapt well into its surroundings much better than fossil fired plants. It can also be situated on multiple-use lands that encompass farming, skiing, and hunting.

Past, Present, Future

Geothermal energy has been harnessed for thousands of years by ancient Chinese, Romans and Native American cultures where hot mineral springs were a source for bathing, cooking, and eating. Even today, a majority of Icelanders use geothermal energy for heating water and buildings. The ‘Ring of Fire’– a horseshoe-shaped zone around the Pacific Ocean – is considered to be the best location for geothermal energy as it experiences quite a lot of earthquakes with volcanic eruptions. The reason is that hot magma is quite proximal to the Earth’s surface there.

Before beginning the geothermal construction, an environmental review is required to categorize potential effects upon plants and animals in the area. The design of power plants is such as to minimize the possible effects upon wildlife and vegetation; the plants are constructed in accordance with the state and federal regulations to protect surrounding areas.