Geothermal Energy Pros & Cons: Is it Renewable?

As we continue our exploration of viable, clean energy sources, geothermal energy is the next on our list of potential candidates to investigate.

When compared to more commonly known renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, geothermal energy has a number of distinct advantages. However, instead of drawing on solar energy to power its systems, it makes use of the Earth’s own internal heat source.

Power plants that generate geothermal electricity use steam produced by naturally occurring reservoirs of hot water that can be found several miles below the Earth’s surface. Geothermal electricity is a renewable source of energy that is becoming increasingly popular.

Consider these reservoirs to be similar to hot springs, except that they are much deeper in the ground.

The hot water from these pools condenses to form steam, which drives a turbine to turn. The turbine then drives a generator, which generates electricity, as shown in the diagram.

There is tremendous potential for geothermal energy to assist in meeting the rapidly increasing energy demands of the world’s population.

However, as is always the case, there are drawbacks that must be considered. Pulling energy from deep within the Earth’s crust is not as simple as it appears on the surface of the planet, as many people believe.

There are complications that have an impact on both the environment and the pockets of those who use the energy.

Below, we’ll go over the advantages and disadvantages of geothermal energy in greater depth.

Advantages of Geothermal Energy (Pros)

Geothermal energy is another renewable energy source that is primarily environmentally friendly. As long as the Earth exists, there will be opportunities to benefit from the heat it generates internally.

While the nature of geothermal energy is often what distinguishes it from other forms of energy such as solar and wind, there is one other important distinction to make: geothermal energy is extremely dependable.

Solar and wind energy are generally regarded as unpredictable sources of energy. It is impossible to predict how much energy can be produced on a given day in advance. With geothermal, on the other hand, the results are extremely predictable.

These are just a few of the benefits that geothermal energy has to offer. Take a closer look at these and other points in greater depth now.

1. Renewable.

There will always be geothermal energy available to be harnessed as long as the Earth exists. This places it in the same category as solar and wind energy, and it will be around until the sun swallows us up in about another 5 billion years, at which point it will be extinct.

Thermal reservoirs, such as those used to extract geothermal energy, are natural resources found deep within the earth’s crust. The difference between them and fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas is that they are naturally replenished.

As a result, geothermal energy is not only renewable, but it is also sustainable. With one exception, which we will discuss in greater detail in the cons section, it is generally considered to be a renewable and sustainable resource in the long term.

2. Mostly Environment Friendly.

Geothermal energy is most commonly referred to as a “green” energy source because of its low carbon footprint. This indicates that it has a minimal impact on the environment.

The production of geothermal energy does result in some pollution, which we will discuss further below in the cons section. However, when compared to the production of fossil fuel energy, its carbon footprint is negligibly smaller.

If you believe in global warming or not, geothermal energy advancement will be a strong candidate for inclusion in the long-term energy solution for the planet.

3. Reliable.

Geothermal energy, in contrast to solar and wind energy, is a very predictable source of energy production. Geothermal power plants have a power output that can be calculated with a high degree of accuracy and is relatively inexpensive.

We don’t have to be concerned about the changing wind direction, overcast days, or complete darkness. With geothermal energy, you can generate energy at any time of day or night with little interruption.

This is an extremely important factor to consider, and it indicates that geothermal energy is a viable option for meeting base-load energy requirements. In layman’s terms, people require a certain amount of energy during the day, and geothermal energy can reliably provide this energy without causing any concern.

4. Does Not Require Fuel.

Typically, when you think of power plants, you think of large amounts of fuel being required. In the case of geothermal energy, this is not the case.

Geothermal energy, like solar and wind energy, is generated by the earth’s natural processes. It is not consumed, but rather harnessed and converted into electricity, as shown in the diagram.

This relates back to the fact that it is a renewable and environmentally friendly energy source. The fact that mining does not pollute the environment means that we do not have to be concerned about activities such as mining, which pollute the environment at a high rate.

5. Strong Upside for Homeowners.

During the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the demand for geothermal heating and cooling systems for individual residences.

It has proven to be an appealing option for many because it is a renewable and environmentally friendly energy source.

While it may be prohibitively expensive to get started, the costs are typically recouped within a few years of getting started.

At the moment, how expensive are your electric and natural gas bills over the course of a year? If you’re like the majority of people, your moods tend to fluctuate significantly with the seasons.

Thermal energy produced by geothermal systems can save you money on your heating and cooling bills all year long. Again, all that is required is a willingness to make an initial financial commitment.

6. Rapidly Evolving Technology.

On par with other environmentally friendly energy sources, geothermal energy is at the forefront of research and development.

Every year, new technology is introduced that improves the efficiency of the energy production process, making it a more attractive option for consumers.

There are a number of disadvantages, which we will discuss in greater detail in the following paragraphs. Take into consideration the fact that technological advancements have the potential to mitigate some of these drawbacks and, in some cases, to transform them into advantages.

It will be interesting to see what the human race can come up with as we continue to delve deeper into the world of geothermal energy exploration.

Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy (Cons)

As with any energy source, the advantages are usually accompanied by disadvantages, which is precisely why we decided to write this article.

Because, as you can imagine, humans have little influence over where the Earth decides to hide its hot water storage reservoirs. As a result, the issue of location becomes complicated.

When you combine high upfront costs with the possibility of earthquakes (yes, we’re serious) and a few concerns about long-term sustainability, you have a recipe for a heated debate about energy sources.

Those are the disadvantages, along with a couple of others, which we’ll go into more detail about below.

1. Zone Specific.

It is likely that the most significant disadvantage of geothermal energy is that it is extremely location-dependent. We don’t really have the ability to choose where geothermal power plants are built, which results in some of the most inconvenient locations being imposed on us by the government.

As a result, geothermal energy is only available in a limited number of geographical areas. The majority of the time, these zones are located in remote areas far away from cities and towns.

As a result, geothermal energy will almost certainly never be a viable option for large-scale energy generation.

Unless you happen to live in an area where it can be harnessed, it offers few benefits. In fact, it is largely ineffective outside of that area.

2. Environmental Side Effects.

However, while the production of geothermal energy typically does not result in the release of greenhouse gases, there are plenty of greenhouse gases present beneath the Earth’s surface that cannot be ignored.

These gases are frequently released into the atmosphere as a result of the digging process. Yes, this does tend to happen even in the absence of human intervention, but emissions have been shown to be higher in areas where geothermal plants are located in close proximity.

In general, pollution created by geothermal power plants is considered to be low when compared to the pollution created by traditional fossil fuel plants currently operating.

Despite the fact that these environmental consequences are considered a negative, they have a fraction of the impact of the energy sources that we currently use.

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3. Earthquakes.

What? Yes, you did read that correctly. Earthquakes have become increasingly common as a result of the use of geothermal energy.

There is always the possibility of altering the structure of the Earth’s surface when dealing with heavy digging deep beneath the surface of the planet. A tectonic shift of sufficient magnitude to cause earthquakes can result as a result of this.

Because most geothermal power plants are located in remote areas, these earthquakes are generally not considered dangerous. Any type of natural disaster, on the other hand, is usually accompanied by the possibility of life-threatening accidents.

Geothermal energy advocates may find it difficult to convince others to support their cause because other energy sources do not have this problem.

4. High Upfront Costs.

There are significant costs associated with geothermal energy that must be considered.

The first consideration is the cost of constructing a commercial power plant. They can be as expensive as nuclear power, if not more so. For those unfamiliar with the process, drilling holes several miles into the Earth’s surface can be both expensive and time-consuming.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that geothermal energy is finding it difficult to compete with other forms of energy production. Despite the fact that it saves you money in the long run, the high upfront costs are a major deterrent for many people.

Similar to wind energy, the majority of geothermal energy users receive substantial subsidies to encourage them to use the energy source. This is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, at least for the next several years, unless technology improves.

5. Issues with Sustainability.

Geothermal energy is generally regarded as a reliable and environmentally friendly source of energy. That is why we placed it at the top of the list of advantages.

Taking hot water from the Earth’s reservoirs allows us to generate geothermal energy. Rainwater that has made its way down from the surface of the earth replenishes these reservoirs.

In theory, if we use the fluid at a faster rate than it is replaced, we will eventually deplete the available supply of the fluid. The only thing this means is that geothermal energy needs to be managed more effectively.

It’s important to note that the issue of sustainability is only relevant for geothermal power plants. Because geothermal energy is used in different ways for heating and cooling homes, this is a nonfactor in the calculation.

Conclusion

By now, it should be clear that a long-term strategy for meeting the world’s energy needs cannot be accomplished by a single person. It will be a combination of different renewable, clean, and environmentally friendly energy sources that we will be able to use for many generations to come.

Geothermal energy is without a doubt one of the energy sources that should be taken into consideration.

Not only is it environmentally friendly and mostly sustainable, but it is also very reliable, requires no fuel, and has a significant benefit for residential homeowners.

The disadvantages of geothermal energy include the high initial investment required, the fact that it is highly location specific, and the fact that it can have some potentially dangerous environmental side effects, such as earthquakes.

What are your thoughts after reading through the lists of advantages and disadvantages?

Resources

Featured Image Credit: Idaho National Laboratory @ Flickr