Alternative Energy Sources >> How Does Geothermal Energy Work?

How Does Geothermal Energy Work?

How Does Geothermal Energy Work?

As fossil fuels cause damage to the environment and to the health of people, various alternative sources of energy have been developed by scientists to supply the world’s fuel needs. One of them is geothermal energy which comes from a natural source, the earth itself.

The word geothermal comes from two Greek terms “geo” meaning earth and “therme” meaning heat. In other words, geothermal energy refers to energy produced by heat stored in the earth’s core. Being nature’s resource, using it is bound to have no impact on the environment and to man. 

Various technologies

Geothermal energy is widely used in various applications today because of its great benefits. 

- Heat pumps. A geothermal heat pump is now popularly used in heating homes. It utilizes energy from the earth’s surface where temperature remains constant throughout the year approximately between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This system involves a series of pipes or loops buried underneath the ground as well as a heat exchanger and ductwork inside the structure. 

- Hot water. Underneath the earth’s surface, one can find hot water and this can be piped to go directly into facilities. Its other uses include heating buildings, growing plants in greenhouses, heating water for fish farming, dehydrating onions and garlic and pasteurizing milk. In some cases, it can be used under roads and sidewalks to melt snow. 

- Hot dry rock. When deep wells are made into hot rock, fluids can be heated to generate electricity. Examples of this are the dry steam plants, flash steam plants and binary-cycle plants. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy:

Compared to the fossil fuels, geothermal energy has greater benefits. Firstly, it is a natural resource and is, therefore, in constant supply and environment friendly. It also has lesser emissions of harmful chemicals making it less hazardous to human health. 

Additionally, power plants operating through geothermal energy have the ability to go on working during the whole day and night regardless of weather conditions. From an economic standpoint, this form of energy is cost effective and its price is not dependent on the fluctuating levels of fossil fuels. 

On the other hand, geothermal energy has also its disadvantages. In considering its engineering aspects, geothermal fluid is corrosive and at a low temperature. This low temperature has an adverse effect as it limits the efficiency of heat engines in electricity generation. 

Another noteworthy disadvantage is on the construction side. Putting up geothermal power plants can affect the stability of the land in the neighboring region notably in systems where water is injected into hot dry rock. These plants may also emit, although in low levels, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide and sulphur. 

Finally, sites that provide geothermal heat for a long time have a tendency of cooling down eventually. One possible cause of this is that the system designed for a certain site was too big that it easily used up the earth’s stored energy. 

Currently, more than 20 countries worldwide are using geothermal power. These include, among others, the United States, Italy, Germany, France, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, China, Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia. 

Read more about Geothermal as a Fuel Supply.

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