Can geothermal become an affordable energy source?

| 31st July 2018
Geothermal power plant

Geothermal, as a renewable energy resource, has untapped potential that could used to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

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Developing the potential for renewable energy is essential to benefit both the planet and our health,. One renewable source with untapped potential is geothermal - but a cost-effective way to utilise the energy must still be found, writes EMILY FOLK.

To combat fossil fuels consumption, it’s essential to find new sources of renewable energy, and and geothermal energy has incredible untapped potential. 

Finding a reliable, eco-friendly and economical energy supply benefits everyone. Finding sustainable ways to live a comfortable life is an important part of existing on this planet.

We don’t have another place to call home, so if we want to thrive and survive, we have to take care of the one we have. Technology has helped advance a lot of comforts that make life easier, and it may be the key to affordable energy.

Fossil fuels have been a source of energy since 1,000 BC, with the Industrial Revolution making it the main source in the mid-1700s to today. While effective, there are some downsides, including the harm fossil fuels cause the environment and the fact that they aren’t renewable.

Humans have already done untold damage to the environment. Some of this might be able to be reversed, but some can’t. There is a desire to fix what can be fixed and stop any more damage from occurring. To accomplish this goal, there is a drive to find renewable and affordable energy sources. Of which, one possibility is geothermal.

Geothermal Energy

This renewable energy source is stored in the earth and can be used to create electricity. Geothermal plants access the steam or hot water reservoirs that exist underground and are used to power a generator or turbine. The best part about this energy source is that heat is always generated by the earth, so it can be a constant source of energy.

In the US, we have used large-scale, commercial geothermal plants since the 1960s. There are geothermal plants around the world, including in Italy, the Philippines (which has three of the 10 largest plants in the world), Indonesia, Mexico and Iceland.

There are three types of geothermal power plants: binary cycle, flash steam and dry steam. Dry stream plants use pipes to move the steam from underground wells directly to the power plant.

Binary cycle plants use hot water to boil another liquid with a lower boiling point, which is then vaporised into a heat exchanger that turns the turbine.

At a flash steam plant, underground water naturally makes its way to the surface, losing steam along the way, which is captured and used to power the turbine or generator.

Commercial uses of geothermal energy are the most common, but they are not the only way to use this renewable energy source. Smaller home units also exist to keep homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Geothermal systems can sometimes be easier to maintain, despite being underground, which cuts down on maintenance costs.

Unfortunately, geothermal energy isn’t widely used because of the cost associated with its implementation. Building a plant can be incredibly expensive, and even though the heat from the earth is widespread, there are only certain areas in the world where it’s easy to access. Installing a geothermal system in your home can also be a costly endeavor. There are companies who are attempting to lower the cost and improve the technology, but it is an ongoing process.

Renewable Energy

Some of the most commonly known renewable energy resources include solar, wind and hydro, with geothermal coming in fourth on the list. All of these are renewable and have a lower impact on health and the environment than fossil fuels. Despite the benefits of using renewable energy, it is not widely implemented as a source of energy throughout the world.

One of the main reasons for a lack of use for renewable energy is the cost associated with installing the equipment. As technology advances, as tax breaks are given and as policies improve, which have an impact on lowering the cost of installing and maintaining equipment, the incentive to utilise renewable energy increases — and countries around the world are heeding the call.

China leads the world with implementing renewable energy. This was driven by concerns over air pollution. The country is so serious about implementing renewable energy programs that they have surpassed their solar PV target for 2020. The two other countries that have expanded their renewable energy resources in addition to China are the US and India.  

The growth in renewable energy is encouraging and substantial, but more can and still needs to be done. Fossil fuels are still the most abundant energy source that are produced and consumed, especially in the US and China. To combat fossil fuels consumption, it’s essential to find new sources of renewable energy, and and geothermal energy has incredible untapped potential. 

The future of humanity, all other life and the planet depend on our ability to find renewable energy sources. Developing renewable sources and making them a cost-effective form of energy is a great start. We will have to keep working to find ways to improve their reliability and economic viability, especially with geothermal energy, so it can be implemented on a worldwide scale.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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