Geothermal energy is quite different from the more popular renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Instead of harnessing the sun’s energy, it taps into the Earth’s internal heat.
Geothermal power plants generate electricity from the steam produced by natural hot water reserves, which lie a few kilometers below the earth’s surface.
In small installations, they take advantage of the heat of the earth to heat the houses.
Think of these reservoirs as hot springs, but underground.
The hot water in these tanks turns into steam which turns a turbine. The turbine then drives a generator, which produces electricity.
Geothermal energy has enormous potential to help meet the increasing energy demands of our society.
As always, however, there are downsides to consider. You can imagine that extracting energy from below the Earth’s surface is not as easy as it might sound.
Complications arise that affect both the environment and the price of energy.
Next, we will discuss the pros and cons of geothermal energy in more detail.
Advantages of geothermal energy.
Another source of clean renewable energy is geothermal energy. As long as the Earth exists, there will be the possibility of harnessing its internal heat.
While the nature of geothermal energy is often what differentiates it from solar and wind, there is also another difference to note: geothermal energy is very reliable.
Solar and wind power is considered largely unpredictable. It is not always possible to estimate the amount of energy that can be produced on a given day. However, with geothermal energy, it’s really very predictable.
Some positive aspects of geothermal energy are:
- Renewable energy source.
As long as the Earth exists, there will be geothermal energy to harness it. This places it in the category of renewable energies with solar and wind power.
Hot water reservoirs used to extract geothermal energy are natural resources underground. Unlike fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, they replenish naturally.
This makes geothermal energy not only renewable but also sustainable.
Geothermal energy is a source of green energy. This means that its impact on the environment is minimal.
The production of geothermal energy generates some pollution, which we will discuss later in the cons. However, its carbon footprint is quite small compared to energy production from fossil fuels.
Whether you believe in global warming or not, geothermal energy will be part of Earth’s long-term energy solution.
Unlike solar and wind power, geothermal energy is a very predictable source of energy. Geothermal power plants have an energy output that can be easily calculated with a high level of precision.
We don’t have to worry about wind fluctuations, cloudy days or nights. Geothermal energy can be produced around the clock with minimal disruption.
- It doesn’t need fuel.
Usually, when you think of power plants, you think of the need for a lot of fuel. This is not the case with geothermal energy.
Like solar and wind power, geothermal energy is produced by nature. It is not consumed, but used and converted into electricity.
It is a renewable and sustainable source of energy.
- Benefits for owners.
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the demand for geothermal heating and cooling for homes.
As a source of renewable and green energy, it turns out to be an attractive option for many.
While it can be expensive to install, the costs can pay off a few years down the road.
Geothermal energy allows significant savings throughout the year on heating and cooling costs. Again, you just need to be prepared to make the initial investment.
- Rapidly changing technology.
Along with other sources of green energy, geothermal energy is constantly evolving.
New technologies keep appearing that improve the process of power generation, making it a more attractive option over the years.
Advances in technology have the capacity to negate some of the drawbacks of this type of power generation and potentially turn them into benefits.
Disadvantages of geothermal energy.
Like any other source of energy, the advantages come with the disadvantages.
As you can imagine, on a large scale, humans do not have much control over the location of the earth’s hot water reservoirs. This makes the location of geothermal power stations a sensitive issue.
When you add up the high upfront costs, the earthquake risks, and some sustainability issues, we have a debate about this source of energy.
These and two more are the downsides which we will discuss in more detail below.
- Specific area.
Probably the biggest downside to geothermal energy is that it is very area specific. We don’t really have the power to choose where we build geothermal power plants, which leads to some pretty awkward places in some cases.
There are only certain areas where geothermal energy is an option. Most of the time, these areas are far from towns and villages.
This means that geothermal energy will probably never be a viable option for large-scale power generation.
- Side effects.
Although geothermal energy production does not emit any greenhouse gases, there are many underground that we cannot ignore.
During the excavation process, these gases are often released into the atmosphere.
In general, pollution from geothermal power plants is considered low compared to today’s traditional fossil fuel power plants.
These effects are not at all close to the impact of the energy sources we currently use.
Geothermal energy can cause earthquakes.
Anytime you dig deep below the earth’s surface there is a risk of altering its structure. This can lead to tectonic changes large enough to cause earthquakes.
For the most part, these earthquakes are not dangerous due to the location of most geothermal power plants.
- High initial costs.
First, the cost of building a power plant on a commercial scale. Like nuclear, they can be very expensive. You can imagine that drilling holes several miles from the earth’s surface can be quite expensive and time consuming.
The sad reality is that geothermal energy struggles to compete with other methods of producing energy. Although you will save money using it in the long run, the high upfront costs are an issue.
Like wind power, most users of geothermal energy receive large subsidies to use the energy source. Until the technology improves, this will likely remain the case for at least the next few years.
Essentially, geothermal energy is considered a sustainable energy source.
We produce geothermal energy with hot water from underground reservoirs. These deposits are replenished when rainwater descends from the surface.
In theory, if we use the fluid at a faster rate than it is replaced, we will eventually run out of supply. This means that geothermal energy must be managed in a sustainable manner.
Right now, we clearly hope that a long-term plan to meet Earth’s energy needs is not just one technological thing. It will be a combination of different renewable energy sources.
Geothermal energy is undoubtedly one of these energy sources to consider.
In addition to being renewable and durable, it is also very reliable, does not require fuel, and is of great benefit to homeowners.
The downsides of geothermal energy include high upfront investments, very location specific energy, and some potentially dangerous environmental side effects including earthquakes.