Top 4 Facts on Geothermal Energy You Should Know
Geothermal energy has been used to centuries as people have found ways to tap into hot water reservoirs where water and steam are the result of rocks heated by the core of the Earth. In some areas of the world, this heated water source is fairly close to the surface.
1. Nothing New Under the Earth
Geothermal energy has been in existence since the Earth was formed. The central core of our planet is formed of two layers. At the very center is a layer of iron and surrounding the iron is a thick layer of magma which is melted rock.
The heat is produced, as far as we know, by the decay of radioactive particles which are contained in all rocks. In the center of the Earth, the decaying process is compressed and confined by a deep layer of rock surrounding it. This creates the heat that is the geothermal process.
In some areas, steam geysers naturally spew boiling water and steam into the air on a regular basis. In other places, hot springs form as magma-heated water seeps up to the surface to form a pond. For centuries, we've know channeling that water can heat homes and greenhouses and be used as hot springs.
In Alaska, there are areas where steam rises from a geothermal body of water surrounded by thick ice and snow. It is common to see film clips of people in that state jumping from the ice into the heated pools and it has become part of many festivals and almost a sporting event in itself.
Kept warm and safe by the steam hot water, it's not uncommon to notice ice crystals on the hair and eyebrows of those in the water. Though a dip in a thermal pool might be fun, getting to and from that pool could be a chilling experience in sub-zero temperatures.
2. Environmental Aspects
To use this heat energy source we must be able to reach it. In some areas of the globe the top layer of the earth is much thinner and these are the areas we refer to as geothermal reservoirs. In the U.S. these are located mainly in the Western states with California the leading producer of geothermal energy.
The Ring of Fire is an area with many geothermal reservoirs but also an area of significant fault lines. This Ring of Fire goes around three sides of the Pacific Ocean and the majority of thermal power production occurs along this line. In other states, the magma reaches the surface through volcanic activity while some state parts are famous for their natural hot springs or spewing geysers of boiling water and steam.
Production of geothermal electricity is environmentally safe in the process itself as pollutants, gases and radioactive materials that may be in the water pumped from deep wells are returned with the spent water by injection wells that pump the cooled water and wasted back down into the thermal reservoir.
3. Unintended Consequences
Wells drilled to produce geothermal power that can be used in the form of electricity often go miles deep into the Earth's crust. The drilling occurs near fault lines where tectonic plates often move or shift naturally. A major concern when drilling these deep wells is that they may increase earthquake activity along the fault line.
This has been a problem in some areas and plans for new plants have been stopped and abandoned when earthquakes and tremors increased and were found to be related to drilling activities. A large energy plant focusing on geothermal energy may drill multiple deep wells.
The history of geothermal power generation clearly shows a method to produce electricity that is not affected by fuel costs and does not produce emissions that damage our air or water quality.
A geothermal plant uses far less land dedicated land and fresh water than producing power with fossil fuels or nuclear reactors. Thought he initial cost to build the plant is very high, operating costs are low and the lifespan of a power plant of this type is impressive.
A geothermal power plant is not a pretty sight on the landscape. These are not sleek buildings with acres of landscaped land acting as a safety barrier. This are more like working farms as opposed to dude ranches. This type of power plant will have more an appearance of an oil field.
The aesthetic issue is the main public complaint about geothermal energy. The natural reservoirs are often located near the boundaries of land and sea and these areas of are often places where views are important and home prices are high.
In California, geothermal plants are located in the northern and southern areas of the state and have been in operation for many years. In other places, although the same reservoir system provides he potential for producing electricity from geothermal power, the high population in the areas does not allow for plants to be built.
Geothermal energy is sustainable and that cannot be said for oil and coal. Fossil fuels will eventually be depleted and as we look for new ways to provide the increasing amounts of electricity needed worldwide there is a renewed focus on geothermal energy and potential.