Geothermal Energy is a sustainable and renewable energy source that is still largely untapped. As an environmentally-friendly resource it has the potential to meet heating, cooling and electricity demands for the future.
There are many advantages of geothermal energy but also some challenges that need to be overcome in order to fully exploit this natural resource.
What are the Advantages of Using Geothermal?
Geothermal energy is more environmentally friendly than conventional fuel sources such as coal and other fossil fuels. In addition, the carbon footprint of a geothermal power plant is low. While there is some pollution associated with geothermal energy, this is relatively minimal when compared to fossil fuels.
Geothermal energy is a source of renewable energy that will last until the Earth is destroyed by the sun in around 5 billion years. The hot reservoirs within the Earth are naturally replenished, making it both renewable and sustainable.
Worldwide energy consumption is currently around 15 terawatts, which is far from the total potential energy available from geothermal sources. While we can’t currently use most reservoirs there is a hope that the number of exploitable geothermal resources will increase with ongoing research and development in the industry. It is currently estimated that geothermal power plants could provide between 0.0035 and 2 terawatts of power.
Geothermal provides a reliable source of energy as compared to other renewable resources such as wind and solar power. This is because the resource is always available to be tapped into, unlike with wind or solar energy.
Effective use of geothermal for electricity generation requires water temperatures of over 150°C to drive turbines. Alternatively, the temperature difference between the surface and a ground source can be used. Due to the ground being more resistant to seasonal heat changes than the air, it can act as a heat sink/ source with a geothermal heat pump just two metres below the surface.
Energy generated from this resource is easy to calculate since it does not fluctuate in the same way as other energy sources, such as solar and wind. This means we can predict the power output from a geothermal plant with a high degree of accuracy.
Since geothermal energy is a naturally occurring resource there is no fuel required, such as with fossil fuels that are a finite resource which needs mining or otherwise extracting from the earth.
There is a great deal of exploration into geothermal energy at the moment, meaning that new technologies are being created to improve the energy process. There are an increasing number of projects to improve and grow this area of industry. With this rapid evolution many of the current cons of geothermal energy will be mitigated against.
What are the Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy?
The largest single disadvantage of geothermal energy is that it is location specific. Geothermal plants need to be built in places where the energy is accessible, which means that some areas are not able to exploit this resource. Of course, this is not a problem if you live in a place where geothermal energy is readily accessible, such as Iceland.
Although geothermal energy does not typically release greenhouse gases, there are many of these gases stored under the Earth’s surface which are released into the atmosphere during digging. While these gases are also released into the atmosphere naturally, the rate increases near geothermal plants. However, these gas emissions are still far lower than those associated with fossil fuels.
Geothermal energy also runs the risk of triggering earthquakes. This is due to alterations in the Earth’s structure as a result of digging. This problem is more prevalent with enhanced geothermal power plants, which force water into the Earth’s crust to open up fissures to greater exploitation of the resource. However, since most geothermal plants are away from population centres, the implications of these earthquakes are relatively minor.
Geothermal energy is an expensive resource to tap into, with price tags ranging from around $2-$7 million for a plant with a 1 megawatt capacity. However, where the upfront costs are high, the outlay can be recouped as part of a long-term investment.
In order to maintain the sustainability of geothermal energy fluid needs to be pumped back into the underground reservoirs faster than it is depleted. This means that geothermal energy needs to be properly managed to maintain its sustainability.
It is important for industry to assess the geothermal energy pros and cons in order to take account of the advantages while mitigating against any potential problems.
This energy resource is certainly important for the future of energy and the environment and TWI can help with any queries you may have about its exploitation: