The hunt for alternative sources of energy in reaction to the prevailing popularity of coal, oil and natural gas has led to people looking to utilise the heat of the Earth itself.
Geothermal energy is generated by geologic processes within the planet, going all the way down to the core. The Earth stores 47% of the energy received from the Sun. When animals burrow underground in the winter, they are taking advantage of geothermal energy. The Earth is a wonderful repository of heat. Geothermal technologies can heat and cool a home far more efficiently than current HVAC technology and devices.
How Geothermal Energy Works
The deeper inside the Earth you go, the higher the temperature. At the Earth’s core, 4,000 miles below the surface, temperatures can reach 7,600 degrees Fahrenheit. The enormous gravitational pressure compresses the rocks and generates heat from the incredible friction generated. This heat can be accessed by geothermal energy technologies.
Geothermal energy reveals itself in displays such as geysers, like Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. Three methods can be used to harness geothermal energy: direct access, using a heat pump and building a power plant. Hot water can be piped from a geyser or hot spring and used to heat homes, with the cool water returning to the spring or geyser. A heat pump uses the natural heat of the ground to heat water, which the pump moves into the house and back into the ground on a closed circuit. Finally, a power plant can harness geothermal energy to turn water into steam, which turns a turbine to generate electricity.
Geothermal energy produces virtually no carbon dioxide or any other harmful or toxic fumes. The white smoke most commonly associated with a geothermal power plant is actually pure steam. Currently, 2.4 million households in California are powered by geothermal energy, according to the Geothermal Energy Association. A geothermal system is incredibly durable, lasting from 25 to even 50 years.
Geothermal energy can be accessed almost anywhere and so there is less reliance on importing oil and natural gas from other countries. The United States imports approximately 60% of its oil and 10% of its natural gas. Geothermal energy developments have the potential to decrease the dependency on imported oil and natural gas and thus contribute to energy security.