sustainable, green energy to replace our reliance on fossil fuels. It hasn’t gotten the amount of attention that wind and solar have, or even nuclear energy. That’s a disservice to the power source, which is the entire planet with this form of energy production.
Like all forms of energy production, there are good and bad things about it. The key is to figure out if one side outweighs the other. For that, here’s a short list of some of the most relevant pros and cons when it comes to geothermal energy.
The pros of geothermal heating:
Near zero emissions
The emissions that a geothermal plant puts out are generated almost entirely from the process of actually building it. Once it’s set, the factories have to run water pumps, but those should be able to run on a small percentage of the energy produced by the plant. The result is that once the facility is up and running, it’s virtually carbon-free.
Geothermal energy is entirely sustainable and steady. Wind and solar can both be finicky, changing with the seasons or even day to day. Geothermal doesn’t do that. It stays consistent no matter what the weather is doing, which is a huge factor when it comes to supplying the energy needs of an entire nation. The only things that will change our ability to generate geothermal energy is when the earth shifts. We can account for minor shifts, like settling, better than we can for weather changes.
It’s reliable and accessible
You might not be able to put a geothermal plant in your house, depending on where you live, but you can probably get one in your area. If you live in an area where you’re able to dig down into the ground, you can use geothermal. Hot spots like in the Midwest have geothermal springs and steam beds closer to the surface, which makes it easier for companies and individuals to reach them.
In those areas, geothermal has been put to a variety of uses. Homeowners are offered incentives, including up to a 30 percent tax credit for installing geothermal in their homes. Some cities are pioneering it to melt ice and snow off pavements, making travel safer during the winter and reducing the need for salt and soot, which can be harmful to the environment.
The cons of geothermal heating:
Geothermal energy is more accessible in some areas than it is in others. If you live near Yellowstone National Park, you won’t have to work too hard to get plenty of geothermal energy, and nothing you or your family do will use it up. Out on the East coast in, say, Manhattan, you’ll have to do a lot more work.
Not only is the water level much higher, making it difficult to go deep enough to reach the heat source, but the structure of the city means you just can’t do it. Everywhere in the city, you have subways and sewers, and even they are already below the water table. The solution is to have enough geothermal plants that the energy can be created in those zone specific areas and moved around the country. That requires an extensive network that we don’t have, and it would take years to set it up.
Increased water consumption
One of the primary methods of using geothermal energy is to run water underground and let it heat up, then use that increased energy to generate power. The other way is to tap into underground reservoirs of heated water or steam. In either situation, the power generation is coming from water. Estimates have put geothermal plants as using between 1,700 and 4,000 gallons of water to produce one-megawatt hour of electricity. With dwindling water supplies, that’s an issue.
Requires extensive excavation
One other big issue with geothermal is that it’s not readily available like wind or solar. You have to dig down and find it, and that makes it harder and more cost prohibitive than others. Many homes can do it because they’re built on solid ground, but the project is expensive and not easy to do. Creating a geothermal plant is much more efficient since you can disrupt one area to generate substantial amounts of power.
Geothermal is an exciting prospect, but it’s not a perfect solution. More work and more innovations are necessary to make it a realistic option for the country.
This is a guest post written by Emily Folk.
Emily is a conservation and sustainability writer.
She is the editor of Conservation Folks, and you can see her latest updates by following her on Twitter.