What is Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal energy is energy that is derived from the earth’s core. Geothermal energy is often hailed as a renewable and eco-friendly form of energy that can be used to power everything from homes to machines. In simple words, geothermal energy is energy that comes from the earth’s heat.
The word ‘geothermal’ derives from two Greek works. ‘Geo’ means ‘earth’ and ‘thermos’ means ‘heat’. This etymology gives us a clue to the way in which geothermal power is generated.
The earth’s core generates heat which rises up towards the surface of the earth. We see this happening in volcanoes, geysers and hot springs. This heat can be captured as steam and used to power electrical generators or steam powered machinery.
Advantages of Geothermal Energy.
This is an all natural energy source, which comes straight from the core of the earth. It is not processed or mixed with additives: just pure heat from our planet’s fiery heart!
- Renewable and Sustainable.
Geothermal energy is considered renewable and sustainable because scientists have predicted that the earth’s core will not start to cool down for another few billion years. So, the earth’s core provides a sustainable form of thermal energy that will not run out.
- Eco friendly.
Geothermal energy is very clean energy. It involves low emission and almost entirely pollutant free. It does not produce any pollutants such as CO2 or nitrous oxides (as burning fossil fuels does, for example).
- Direct use.
Geothermal energy can be used directly, as long as you have a way of capturing the earth’s heat in the form of steam. No refining needed!
- Cost effective.
As geothermal energy is captured on site, transport costs are minimal. And, as no fuel is needed to turn this thermal energy into power (whereas fuel is needed, ironically enough, to power the machinery used for refining oil and extracting coal), the costs of extracting geothermal energy is also comparatively low.
- Creating jobs.
Skilled engineers, manual laborers, architects, geoscientists and more are needed to harness geothermal energy.
- Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels may run out by the end of this century, so it is crucial that we reduce our reliance on them by turning to other energy sources – geothermal energy is helpful here.
- Perfect for countries with plenty of geysers or volcanoes.
Iceland is a volcanic country with abundant hot springs and geysers. By using geothermal heating systems in homes and businesses, Iceland has created a very large self sustaining nationwide geothermal heating system!
- Suitable for domestic use.
Geothermal energy can be used without being processed in many instances. If heat is what we need, we can use geothermal energy without having to process it or convert it into another type of energy. For example, such energy can be pumped straight into a home’s heating system to provide heat, hot water – and even to power air conditioning systems to cool the rooms down in the summer.
- Energy efficient.
Geothermal heating systems are very energy efficient: very little energy is lost as it is transported from the earth’s core to your central heating. The amount of energy delivered per unit is significantly higher than the amount provided by other common energy sources such as coal or natural gas.
- Viable for the future.
Because it is a sustainable energy source, geothermal energy is something we can rely on in the future. Clean and sustainable, geothermal energy is the face of the future – for some people.
Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy.
- High installation costs.
Though it is pretty low maintenance when it is up and running, a geothermal energy system can cost over ten thousand dollars to install in a house or business.
- Site specific.
Geothermal energy generation site is generally tied to a particular location. Energy generation is only practical for communities that are located close to volcanoes, geysers, hot springs or other geothermal energy sources. Thus, geothermal energy may be out of reach for most people.
- Bad smells.
As you may have noticed if you have bathed in a hot spring, geothermal energy often carries with it a sulfurous smell. This is due to the presence of hydrogen sulfide.
- Potential for depletion.
Sometimes, volcanoes go dormant for centuries. Geysers, too, can stop bubbling completely. When geothermal energy sources stop releasing geothermal energy, communities need to seek alternative sources of energy.
- Minimal potential for transportation.
Whilst natural gas can be piped into homes all over the world from Eastern Europe, and whilst coal can be carried in trucks across whole continents, geothermal energy cannot be transported easily. This is because geothermal energy is captured on site wherever the earth’s core is expelling heat.
- Toxic potential.
The sulfides emitted along with geothermal energy can be toxic if breathed in regularly. Mercury and ammonia can also be emitted, and these are hazardous to touch or to breathe in. Chemical tests can be done on site in order to determine whether a given geothermal heat source is emitting hazardous levels of dangerous chemicals.
- Dependence on technology and specialized equipment.
Extracting geothermal energy from deep in the earth’s crust relies on certain types of technology that may not be available to everyone. Further, cutting edge machinery is needed to harness geothermal energy – this can be time consuming to install and difficult to source and build. One of the key examples of special equipment used for geothermal energy harnessing is the deep drill.
- Water consumption.
Some types of geothermal heat pumps (and, specifically ‘continuous loop’ heat pumps) require a constant supply of water in order to use geothermal energy. If you have a geothermal energy system installed in your home, this can cause your water bills to rise dramatically.
- Need for replacements.
Geothermal heat pumps need to be replaced every 10 to 20 years if they are to continue working as well as possible. This regular need for replacement can seem costly or time consuming to some communities.
- Labor intensive to convert
Converting geothermal energy from heat energy into electricity can be more labor intensive.
There is no denying that harnessing nearby geothermal energy is a neat solution to a community’s energy needs. Green, easy to extract and derived from a sustainable source, geothermal energy provides a brilliant alternative to CO2-emitting fossil fuels.
However, geothermal energy does have its drawbacks, and the main disadvantage of this energy source is quite simply the fact that it is not available everywhere. Moreover, as geothermal energy cannot be efficiently or easily transported very far, use of this type of energy remains limited to those communities that are lucky enough to be located near to a volcano, a geyser, a hot spring, or any other natural geothermal energy sources.
Nonetheless, it is safe to say that geothermal energy heating systems are the perfect blend of cutting edge engineering and natural energy. And what could be more exciting than knowing that your home is heated by energy that comes straight from the earth’s core?