We are finally reaching the end of a hot and humid summer that, without the assistance of air conditioning, might have been more of a challenge to survive for many areas of the country. It was reported Mid-Atlantic States this summer experienced temperatures similar to that of Middle Eastern countries. It is safe to assume many of us have seen energy bills this summer higher than before, and they will only continue to increase as time goes on. Mid-winter energy bills are likely to be high as well and consequently, many of us are thinking of ways to permanently reduce our energy costs for future years. An alternative form of renewable energy which can provide such a solution is geothermal energy.
The term, “geothermal,” does not seem as common of a renewable energy source as other types, but the importance of this type of energy production goes deep into the earth’s layers. “Geothermal” is derived from Greek origin and simply means, “heat from within the Earth.” This type of renewable energy has been used for thousands of years and continues to be used today to heat and cool various types of structures in all climates. The first documented geothermal power station dates back to 1911, in Larderello, Tuscany, Italy. Today, larger cities are seeing the importance of geothermal and how it is cost effective – some cities have directed their pipe lines from geothermal systems under sidewalks in the winter to aid in the melting of snow. Geothermal energy is considered to be renewable since the energy created comes from water and is then replenished by rains and the heat extracted from within the earth is never depleted.
The main advantages of geothermal energy, other than being renewable and improving upon our sustainable lifestyles, include low heating costs, quietness of the geothermal systems, and money savings associated with the system efficiency. For example, a geothermal heating system is 48% more efficient than a gas furnace and even 75% more efficient than oil furnaces, as documented by http://www.our-energy.com/geothermal_heating_advantages_and_disadvantages.html. Additionally, there is no fuel transportation required for the procurement of the geothermal electricity. Disadvantages of geothermal are the high up-front costs for the initial installation of the system. Also, a large tract of land is necessary to host this type of electrical generating system due to the type of drilling involved. There is another aspect of a geothermal system which does not make it entirely a 100% clean, green energy source and it involves the geothermal pump, which is powered by coal based electricity. However, to be completely honest, the benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks and will only continue to do so in the future.
Geothermal hot spots below ground are complicated to access and typically require the drilling of an extensive pipe into the subsurface soils to test the underground temperatures. Temperatures within the Earth’s core are difficult to determine since the core itself is approximately 4,000 miles beneath us and the extreme conditions associated with such a depth inhibits a scientifically accurate measurement of the temperature. It is estimated by scientists the range of the earth’s temperature is from 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit to 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit. To reach these temperatures, there are three (3) types of geothermal plants with the capability to capture the heat emitted at various high temperatures and at great depths: binary cycle, dry steam, and flash. And, the area most known for their geothermal features are located along what is known as the “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific Ocean.
Geothermal heat sources above ground are seen as geysers, volcanoes, hot springs, and fumaroles. (On a side note, there exist quite a few remedies associated with the healing powers of hot springs as well.) For residential purposes, homeowners do not need to access the heat that deep within the earth; they are able to utilize geothermal heat pump systems, which are commonly made of three (3) parts: a ground heat exchanger, a heat pump unit, and ductwork. Geothermal heat pump systems function by deriving heat from the ground heat exchanger, moving it through the heat pump unit, and dispersing it through the ductwork indoors. In the summer months, the process is reversed and can result in heating of water for domestic uses.
As with all sources of energy, both renewable and non-renewable, there are advantages and disadvantages, however, the exploration of renewable energy applications should not be stunted by these limitations. The advancement of research and technology of these renewable energy sources are bound to continue and will ultimately become a mainstay in sustainable existence.