Geothermal energy facts lists the interesting less know facts about this earth energy which is environmentally friendly, reliable, renewable and relatively cheap also. Geothermal energy is enough to fulfill all our energy needs and it can solve most of the issues the world is facing including global warming.
Geothermal Energy Facts – Things to Know
What is Geothermal Energy?
Due to the depletion of fossil fuel deposits, the world is looking for alternative forms of energy that are environmental friendly and long-lasting. Geothermal energy falls under this category as it is the heat from the earth. The earth’s core is super hot due to radioactive decay of minerals and heat retained from the original formation of the earth. The high temperatures melt the adjacent rock forming magma which in turn heats the rocks and water in the earth’s crust. The temperatures may reach to high points of around 370 degree Celsius. The water in the crust is replenished by rainfall and the heat needed is always available hence making geothermal energy renewable and does not diminish.
The heating of water in the earth’s crust results in hot springs, geysers and hot rock among many others. Humans have been using these products of geothermal energy for centuries as healing pools and even for bathing but now these features are being used to harness energy to produce electricity and heat houses with over 24 countries using this form of power. One of the major advantages of this form of power apart from its effects on the environment is that it can be used on large scale or on small scale depending on the needs but unfortunately, the process is a bit complex thus in most cases require experts in order to harness the power. Although this power is environmental friendly, reliable, renewable and relatively cheap, for years it has been restricted to certain areas as these features are mainly found in places near tectonic plate boundaries.
Despite the fact that only a small portion of this power has been exploited, experts believe that geothermal energy is enough to sustain all of our needs and if used as a substitute of fossil fuels we might be able to solve most of the problems we are experiencing including global warming. This makes most people believe that this is the energy for the future.
How it Works
There are different approaches to capturing the energy depending on the occurrence of the power. The commonly used method is tapping into already present hydrothermal systems. Power plants wanting to use this energy usually drill their own holes into the rock in order to successfully tap the steam. The steam captured is then passed through the electric generators by turning the turbines. The steam then passed through a condenser and turned into water which is then used to replenish the water in the crust.
Another approach known as the binary system, this is where hot water is passed through a heat exchanger and used to heat isobutene which is then used for the turbines. Alternatively, heat from geothermal springs can be used to heat houses, greenhouses and fish ponds and many more uses as used in most houses in Iceland and Reykjavik and some resorts in Virginia.
Geothermal energy is relatively cheap as it does not rely on fuel prices. This is because fuel is not used in the production of energy apart from oiling of the pumps. This shields the energy from oil price fluctuations. One of the drawbacks is that the initial capital costs are quite high with the average costs being over $4million per MW. This is because drilling of the rocks and exploration as this is a risky venture and must be done by experts and must be done with precision.
Additionally, the purchase of the necessary equipment adds to this expense making the venture to geothermal energy expensive. Installation of heat pumps can be as high as $3000 for every kilowatt. Geothermal systems that use direct systems are much cheaper as they require lower maintenance per kilowatt (kW).
Subsidies from the government can make the power more affordable and the best alternative energy source. As earlier mentioned geothermal unlike other alternative forms of energy can provide enough energy to sustain all our needs.
One of the biggest geothermal companies is the Chevron Corporation which is a private company that supplies electricity and The Geysers in California is the most developed geothermal field in the world.
The move to other alternative forms of energy is due to the depletion of the existing fossil fuel deposits. The fact that geothermal energy exists naturally and is renewable makes it an ideal form of energy. The heat which is an important factor in the production of energy is constantly available as the core of the earth is always at high temperatures and the heat is not affected by the tapping of the steam by geothermal plants. The amount of heat used up in the process of producing power is only a small portion of the earth’s internal temperatures.
This is because the man raw material needed is steam which is replenished by rainfall or by the condensed water. Most plants use the heat and steam to turn turbines and then the steam is passed in a condensation area where it is cooled before being re-introduced back into the earth’s crust.
Despite all this, caution should be exercised so as to avoid depletion in certain areas. Therefore, equilibrium should be maintained in order to ensure that the area does not cool down and the water is not exhausted. Examples of such are Larderello and Wairakei geysers that have seen a decrease in their output due to exhaustion of heat and water in the area.
The good news is that exhausted wells and geysers can be recovered by introduction of water in the area and reduction of production. This can be seen in the Lardarello in Italy which has been used since 1913 and The Geysers in California (1960).
Effect on the Environment
The rise of greenhouse gases (GHG) has prompted us to look for other types of energy that reduce their emissions. Fossil fuels which are mainly in use at the moment are the major causes for pollution and emission of GHG in the world. This is due to the burning of these fuels which produce smoke and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide among many others. Additionally, this leads to acidic rain and depletion of the ozone layer. Carbon dioxide gives a greenhouse effect and result in a rise in the world’s temperatures.
Although drilling into the earth’s crust releases some greenhouse gases into the atmosphere the amount released is significantly lower than that emitted by fossil fuels. Consequently, geothermal energy is thought to be the solution to the problems caused by global warming if used as a substitute to fossil fuels. The average amount released by existing geothermal systems is around 122kg for every megawatt of power. Compared to the amount produced by use and extraction of fossil fuels, this is only a small fraction.
Moreover, the steam extracted from the earth’s crust could also have other dangerous such as mercury, boron, antimony and arsenic. After the cooling of the steam these chemicals can damage the environment, if released into the environment. This is curbed by the practice of releasing the cooled water back into the earth to renew the water in the crust and this protects from environmental pollution.
These power plants do not have a lot of waste material as the main raw material is steam from the earth’s crust. In cases where the power plants have high acid levels and dangerous chemicals emission control systems are used to reduce any waste products. This protects the earth from other forms of pollution such as soil and water pollution which are affected during the mining and extraction of fossil fuels. The pumps and compressors used require electricity and this can contribute to pollution but this is only a small fraction compared to the pollution caused by electric heating if fossil fuels are used. Therefore, the amount of pollution is dependent on the type of electricity used to power the pumps and compressors.
Construction of the power plants may lead to land instability as drilling into the surface of the earth especially in areas near tectonic plate boundaries can cause earthquakes. This was seen in Basel Switzerland when over 10000 seismic events led to the delay of the geothermal energy project with some tremors measuring up to 3.4 on the Richter scale.
On the plus side, geothermal plants require very little land space and freshwater compared to other forms of energy such as coal plants, oil or wind farms. Averagely, a power plant can cover around 3.5 square kilometers for every giga watt of electricity and use only 20 liters of water per megawatt produced.
Generally, geothermal energy is environmental friendly and reduces emission of greenhouse gases therefore can be the energy needed for the reduction of global warming.
As stated earlier geothermal energy is the ideal form of energy because it is environmental friendly and considerably cheap. The fact that it is renewable and does not diminish and can also be revived gives it an added advantage. Geothermal power is considered much better than other types of green energy such as solar energy because it is not dependant on factors that are not constant and can be used for massive production of energy. All these factors make geothermal energy the energy for future generations and the solution to the energy crisis facing the world.
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