What is Geothermal Energy?

The earth is hot and brimming with energy. If you’ve ever witnessed the spectacle of erupting volcano, visited the Geysers situated at Yellow Stone national park in the United States, or sat in a geothermal hot spring, you’ve already come across geothermal energy. The more you go underneath the earth’s surface, the hotter it becomes. The earth’s crust is composed of hot rocks and water. Below the earth’s crust exists a layer of molten hot rock known as magma, which is considered to as hot as the surface of the sun. This heat found inside the earth is called geothermal energy.

By definition, geothermal energy is the energy stored as heat underneath the surface of the earth. Its net potential is limitless with regard to humans, and its energy is the same as the sun. Geothermal heat and water have been utilized for centuries. The Native Americans, Chinese and Romans utilized hot geothermal springs for cooking, bathing, and therapeutic applications.

In the modern day, geothermal energy is utilized in numerous applications, for example, heating, systems that provide hot water or steam to a wide range of units, along with heating and cooling of private and commercial buildings such as residential homes, offices, and shops by utilizing geothermal heat pumps. Also, geothermal energy has industrial potential to grow plants in greenhouses, heating water at fish farms, drying crops and many other industrial processes.

This enormous energy is also being harnessed to generate electricity through geothermal power plants. Using the modern day technology, humans are able to pinpoint the location of geothermal resource, drill wells a few kilometers deep and extract the hot water below.


Advantages of Geothermal Energy

  1. It’s eco-friendly

Unlike fossil fuel plants, geothermal energy plants do not involve any form of combustion. This means they give off significantly few amounts of greenhouse gasses. Binary geothermal power plants, which are the most common in the world together, along with their flash binary counterparts emit close to zero greenhouse gas. Even dry steam geothermal power plants are more eco-friendly than fossil-fuel based power plants.

Geothermal heat pumps used for heating and cooling buildings are also ranked among the most efficient cooling and heating systems obtainable today. This is due to their relatively low electricity requirement. Their use massively minimizes emissions coming from power production. On top of those, geothermal energy boasts of small land-use footprint. In fact, it ranks among the smallest per kilowatt of all electricity production technology including nuclear, coal and other renewable energies.

  1. Renewable power source

Geothermal power generation injects a sense of reliability to the national power system. Geothermal energy can be generated as a base-load renewable energy resource, which means production occurs 24/7 despite changing weather patterns, thereby offering an exceptionally reliable and constant source of green energy. As a base-load source of power, geothermal energy is primed to take the place of coal in the traditional utility system.

Geothermal energy is also flexible enough to bridge the gap created by the intermittent renewable energy resources like solar and wind. Since geothermal energy production can be easily increased or decreased depending on current demand, it can be utilized to maintain the integrity of the national power grid, hence, ramping up the overall efficiency of the whole electricity generation system, while at the same time offering reliable and clean energy.

Geothermal energy is also highly scalable. This means small power plants (a few tens of KWS) are able to be economically set up and tailored to applications existing in communities.

  1. Creates new jobs

Initiation of geothermal projects spurs the economy of rural areas, which are typically characterized by unemployment, thereby creating new jobs. A good example is the plan initiated in 2012 to set up a new power complex in Imperial Valley, California, a state that was experiencing the lowest unemployment rates in the United States. The planned investment involved injection of about $1 billion, which was projected to bolster the economy of the area. The project materialized and took about 4 years to complete.

On average, 323 workers were involved in the project. When the project was up and running, more than 57 jobs were created in the fields of maintenance, operations, engineering, and administration. This project underscores the sheer size of employment opportunities that a single geothermal power plant can create.

  1. Widely available

The earth’s internal heat is available around the world. The only limitation is the capability to extract the energy. However, with advances in technology (geothermal heat pumps), individuals have been able to harvest this hot water from the reservoir below the earth to heat homes and businesses. Even so, advance resources are needed for converting this heat into electricity at individual level. With the rapid growth of technology, economic systems will be developed to convert this abundant heat into electricity by individuals in the near future.

  1. Significant savings on your utility bills

Installation of geothermal energy systems requires high upfront capital investments compared to traditional systems due to the buried loop system. Some homeowners shy away from installing geothermal systems due to this initial cost, but fail to view the bigger picture. When the geothermal system is fully operational, you’ll witness significant reduction in your utility bill (by up to 50%), plus they require low maintenance costs. Most institutions tie the upfront cost of installing a geothermal system to your monthly mortgage remittances or other interest financing alternatives. The savings accrued from your utility bills could be enough to offset the increase in your loan payment, offering you additional cash flow.

Generally, geothermal systems utilize small quantities of electricity to transmit heat to and from the ground to your house. Averagely, it’s able to generate 4 units of energy per every unit of electricity utilized to drive the system. Even the top notch traditional systems convey less than 1 unit for every unit they consume. These days you can use online calculators to see the exact amount you can save per month by installing a geothermal energy system.

  1. Promotes national unity

Geothermal energy is entirely available and produced locally, and it doesn’t need fossil fuels to operate. This means it can comfortably minimize over-dependence on fossil fuel sources of energy. Additionally, since electricity is increasingly becoming utilized in the transportation sector, it’s able to outrightly take the place of imported oil. Direct utilization of geothermal heat for specific industrial, commercial and agricultural purposes offers impeccable option to other thermal sources of energy such as oil, electricity, natural gas, and propane.

By ramping up the availability of local fuels around the world, geothermal energy is able to boost our capability to take charge of our economic future and bolster our national security, while at the same time preserving the available natural gas and oil resources for the most important uses, for instance, pharmaceuticals, liquid fuels for transportation and chemical feedstock.

  1. No sound pollution

A geothermal system uses exactly the same principles as a freezer or refrigerator. It operates quietly. It’s a good system to maintain a good relationship with your neighbors. Traditional heating and cooling systems produce a lot of noise that can irritate you and your neighbors causing unnecessary disagreements.

  1. Free hot water production

As an added advantage, geothermal systems are able to generate some if not all of your hot water at higher efficiencies than conventional techniques. A simple modification is performed in your geothermal system to enable it to deliver hot water that can be stored in your water heater for later use. Also, during the cooling cycle, the heat extracted from the building is sent to the water heater instead of being transferred to the ground. This guarantees you free hot water as long as the geothermal system is functioning.

  1. High efficiency coupled with low maintenance

Geothermal heat pumps are characterized by high efficiency. Averagely, they use 25% to 50% electric power for cooling and heating. And the fact that they come with flexible designs, means they can be tailor-made for various situations, needing a much lesser space compared to the traditional systems. Also, because geothermal systems are designed with fewer mobile parts, and these parts are housed in a building, makes their life expectancy significantly high.

These systems are also advantageous since the pipes come along with impressive warranty of up to 25 years, keeping in mind that the system can last for up to 20 years. This is, essentially, a lifetime warranty. Besides geothermal systems having a long lasting attribute, they are utterly user-friendly and convenient. Durability means they require low maintenance, which saves you a lot of extraordinary maintenance costs.

Although geothermal energy doesn’t enjoy the popularity of other renewable resources such as wind and solar, it’s an incredible, renewable and relatively cheap alternative that merits a multitude of support. In fact, governments are releasing reports stating the reasons why citizens should support geothermal energy developments to ensure more individuals are tapping this abundant resource to bridge the electricity gap.

Image credit: pixabay


Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.