How does geothermal energy work?
Geothermal energy is a sustainable energy source that utilizes the earth’s heat deep within the crust and is harnessed by drilling deep within the earth. There are many different designs for geothermal power plants, but their overall processes remain the same. In all of these designs the main process is to, “pull hot water and steam from the ground, use it, and then return it as warm water to prolong the life of the heat source,” as stated by the Union of Concerned Scientists ("How Geothermal Energy Works"). Through this process the hot water and steam are turned into a universal electrical source. While that may be helpful in understanding the overall idea of how geothermal energy is captured, the best way to get an understanding of how a geothermal system works is by learning about the parts that make up a geothermal system that is currently operating in Glendale, Wisconsin. This geothermal system is, “a closed-loop geothermal system, consisting of 272 wells drilled 300-ft. deep each, heats and cools the campus buildings. The system is made up of a plate-to-plate heat exchanger, pumps, chillers, heat pump, piping, manifolds and valves” as explained by Candace Roulo Senior Editor of Contractor Magazine. Extracting the earth’s heat and using it as an energy resource is beneficial since it is both sustainable and renewable, but many people worry about the efficiency of geothermal energy.
If the process of how geothermal energy works is still confusing, this video will help clarify any questions. Through this video the process of a geothermal system is explained from start to finish with visuals throughout the whole clip.
How efficient is geothermal energy?
Geothermal energy has developed into one of the world's most efficient energy sources over the past couple decades. It has been tested as having one of the highest coefficient of performance (COP). A coefficient of performance is a scientific measurement of how much energy a system produces versus how much an energy system uses and geothermal heat pump systems on average have COPs of 3 to 4.5 (“Benefits and Efficiency of Geothermal Heat Pumps”). Meaning that for every one unit of energy used, a geothermal system will produce 3 to 4.5 units of energy. Geothermal energy's high COP can be seen through geothermal heat pumps used in common households. “While a standard electric heater or natural gas-fired combustion furnace can provide no more than 100% of the energy it uses, GHPs in heating mode can offer efficiencies of 400% percent and even more” as stated by Douglas Dougherty the President and CEO of the Geothermal Exchange Organization. With geothermal energy at the top for efficiency, geothermal energy can be used as an alternative energy to fossil fuels, but there are still questions on whether or not this energy can support a large population.
How many people can a geothermal plant provide energy for?
Over the years as geothermal power plants have made innovations and improved efficiency, power plants have been able to provide thousands of people sustainable energy year round. To get an exact number on how many people a geothermal power plant can provide energy for, a new 13-kilometer geothermal network in Paris, “is scheduled to provide heat and hot water to 10,000 additional homes in the greater Paris area by next year” (“France Bets on Geothermal Energy”). The number of houses that this geothermal power plant can sustain is significantly high but geothermal energy’s quest to fulfilling our energy needs does not just stop at one new energy power plant. In the United States new geothermal projects are underway and due to geothermal energy's domestic abundance, the number of people they will supply energy for will reach record highs, as explained by Alexander Richter Director on the Board of the International Geothermal Association. With tens of thousands of people receiving a sustainable energy source from geothermal power plants, our dependency on fossil fuels will decrease substantially. With the number of people geothermal energy can sustain, many people's energy needs will be met, but providing energy isn't the only thing that geothermal power plants impact.
Are there any other advantages to using geothermal energy besides providing energy?
Providing energy is not the only thing that geothermal power plants do. Geothermal energy projects have created new jobs while also leaving a positive impact on the environment. In France, building a clean-energy infrastructure has reduced harmful emissions, lower energy costs, and created badly needed jobs; while at the same time increasing the nation's energy independence (“France Bets on Geothermal Energy”). Jobs for geothermal energy plants will not only be needed during the construction of these energy plants but to maintain them over time. Geothermal energy plants can not only impact the economy of a country greatly, but they also help lower carbon emissions that are destroying our atmosphere. Compared to geothermal plants, “coal plants emit 23 times more carbon dioxide, 10,837 times more sulfur dioxide, and 3,865 times more nitrous oxides per megawatt hour than a geothermal steam plant” (“Energy Bill Will Revolutionize Geothermal Energy in the U.S”). By changing our energy use to geothermal energy, not only will the economy be positively impacted, but also the amount of harmful emissions we release into the atmosphere of the only world we have. With the many advantages that geothermal energy portrays, the use of more geothermal energy in our future could become a reality.
Is there a future for geothermal energy?
Over recent years many companies and countries have made it a priority to either invest money into renewable resources or lower their carbon emissions by utilizing renewable energy more. By doing so countries can work towards energy independence and reduce carbon emissions. In January of 2014, the European Commission set a goal of reducing carbon emissions in Europe by 40 percent by 2030, partly by increasing the use of geothermal energy (“France Bets on Geothermal Energy”). Not only does geothermal energy have a bright future in Europe, but also in the the Middle East where oil and natural gases are abundant. Knowing that their natural gas reserves won't last forever, Saudi Arabia has begun investing in renewable energy projects. The Chairman of Saudi Arabian Oil Company plans to start bidding on $50 billion dollars worth of renewable energy projects, due to the many known hot springs in Saudi Arabia that can support geothermal power plants (“Now, Oil-Rich Saudi Arabia Eyes Geothermal Energy Too”). The future for geothermal energy continues to grow, as more and more geothermal energy plants are being built yearly. As these geothermal plants are being built, geothermal energy will continue to leave a long lasting helpful imprint on our society.