Humans have always tried to expand their energy source options, and one of the places we have looked to tap energy is geothermal. However, many people do not know what geothermal energy is or how it works. In this article, we take a closer look at this renewable energy.
What Is Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal energy is simply energy tapped from within the earth. Heat is continuously produced at the core of the earth through the slow decay of radioactive particles.
The temperature at the earth’s center has been estimated at 6,000 degrees Celsius. This can be sustained for billions of years.
How Does Geothermal Energy Work?
There are two methods of capturing this renewable energy; power plants and heat pumps:
Geothermal Power Plants
This is a fairly simple process, although the engineering aspect may be daunting based on the location.
Engineers drill holes thousands of meters deep into the earth through which steam or hot water is pumped to the surface under high pressure.
The wells are often located in areas known for hot springs, geysers, or volcanic activities. This is because the heat is closer to the ground surface in these areas.
When the hot water reaches the surface, the pressure is reduced, causing it to turn into steam.
The resulting steam is then used to turn a turbine which produces electricity. The next stage is cooling the steam into water, which is returned to the earth.
Geothermal Heat Pumps
This renewable energy does not need to pass through a power plant as steam.
With heat pumps, geothermal energy can heat or cool the home, for example. This method of temperature regulation is popular in Iceland.
Houses running on geothermal energy absorb heat from the ground to produce warmth indoors during winter.
During summer, the process is reversed, and heat is dumped into the earth to cool down the house.
To use this renewable energy, water or refrigerant is pumped through a loop of pipes under the earth, where the temperature remains constant.
During winter, the water or refrigerant gains heat from the earth. The heat is then transferred to the house when the water reaches the surface.
With the heat gone, the water is returned to below the ground, picking up the heat again.
During the summer, the reverse is the case as water pumped from the house loses heat to the earth, thereby cooling the building.
Why Understand Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal energy is important because it diversifies our energy sources. It also allows us to be less reliant on fossil fuels. This renewable energy can also help a country to be energy independent.
In addition, this renewable energy can help drive down the carbon footprint of some zero-emission initiatives.
For example, electric vehicle owners can go more carbon-free by charging their cars with geothermal energy.
Similarly, corporate organizations can achieve carbon neutrality by switching to this renewable energy.
Pros And Cons Of Geothermal Energy
This renewable energy has many advantages, including:
- Geothermal energy is environmentally friendly more than traditional sources like coal and oil. This is because the pollution associated with geothermal energy is far less than those of fossil fuels;
- Geothermal energy is renewable because the supply is guaranteed for as long as the earth exists. The source of the heat is practically self-sustaining;
- This energy is stable compared to other renewables like solar and wind and can be tapped into at any time. It is also easy to predict the output;
- There is a lot of potential with geothermal energy because the source is abundant. It is also more straightforward to harvest because it does not need transporting or refining.
However, energy of geothermal sources has its drawbacks, including:
- Location restriction because geothermal energy projects have to be sited where it is available;
- Digging wells for geothermal energy may release gases trapped under the ground. Some of them may be harmful, although usually not as dangerous as those produced by burning fossil fuels;
- Geothermal projects may trigger earthquakes because of the effect of digging;
- Cost may also be an issue as geothermal projects tend to be expensive;
- Geothermal energy has to be closely monitored to ensure sustainability. The energy transporting fluid has to be moved back under the ground faster than the rate it is being depleted.
This energy is a better alternative for the environment because of the reduced impact of its operation. Nations attempting to diversify their energy portfolio would do well to explore the possibilities.