Renewable energy projects are beginning to show the world just how efficient and safe, producing electricity can be. Rising costs of fossil fuels have given cities and nations a reason to look to nature to provide the power by which we live. While alternative energy is a fairly recent trend, countless hours have already been spent researching and experimenting to create sources of energy that can be reliable and efficient.
Geothermal energy, currently, only supplies about 1% of the world’s power, but the possibilities are virtually limitless. A 2007 study by MIT has published that geothermal energy could supply the world with enough energy to power our homes, businesses, and industries well into the future. Geothermal wells can be drilled all over the world and leave a relatively small footprint. Initial costs of constructing a new geothermal plant can run high, but with oil over $125 a barrel and rising, it would not take long to recoup those costs.
Geothermal energy generally works by drilling wells deep into the Earth and pumping water that travels down one well, is heated by hot rock, and is retrieved by the other well. The water traveling underground transforms into steam, which in turn, powers turbines connected to the power grid. Water that does not reach steam temperature, can be piped to low level heating systems such as those found in homes and greenhouses. Though efficiency may decrease as heat sources are depleted, the Earth’s mantle does replenish the heat stored in these deep rock layers.
The advantages of geothermal energy are many. This energy source is extremely reliable as it is available around the clock. Unlike solar energy and wind power, once a geothermal plant is installed, the exact amount of energy can be calculated which in turn will help to reduce future rate hikes. In combination with emission control systems, environmental pollutants can be cut to 0.1% of current fossil fuel plants. Also, this technology is scalable to allow energy production for large cities down to small towns.
Geothermal does have a few disadvantages which have kept it from becoming a front runner in energy production. The initial costs of drilling and constructing plants, can be very intimidating. As with all new technology, it takes a serious investment and well thought out plan to make this energy source function. In addition, concerns over contaminated ground water need to be further addressed. Additives used to increase the efficiency of steam rising to the surface, need to be properly controlled and kept separate from sources of drinking water.
Many different nations are beginning their journey to provide effective and reliable, geothermal energy. Germany has been developing this technology and has recently launched a massive plant that harnesses the heat of the earth. This plant can currently power about 10,000 homes or 3.4 megawatts of electricity.
The United States has been experimenting with geothermal power since the first generator was created in the early 1900’s. Today the U.S. generates about 2850 MW of electricity using geothermal technology and boasts the largest use of geothermal sources for power.
New sources of energy are being developed all over the world, and geothermal energy is just one more energy source in an arsenal that can help to eliminate our need for fossil fuels. By developing this technology further, we can begin to build a reliable source of energy that can help to backup the energy produced from wind, hydro, and other alternative energies.