As we enter a new decade, the need for clean and renewable energy is more pressing than ever before. The discourse around climate change and humankind’s hand in it has been a focal point of at least one candidate in the 2020 race for the office of President of the United States and climate awareness has seen a significant boost on both sides of the political aisle thanks to the efforts of climate activists like Greta Thunberg. With climate change once again in the international spotlight, it is important to look beyond just solar and wind power to the largely underutilized renewable energy source that is geothermal energy
Geothermal Is More Versatile Than Most Think
Situated with the west coast running along the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire, the United States of America is in a prime position to begin taking advantage of geothermal power on a larger scale. The western third of the country is incredibly tectonically active which is essential to harnessing geothermal energy as this tectonic activity is what heats underground water reserves to the required temperatures. Newer technology and techniques, however, have largely eliminated the geographical restrictions that used to plague geothermal energy production.
The eastern two-thirds of the United States is now equally capable of producing vast amounts of geothermal energy with the advent of new drilling techniques and technologies as the western third has been historically able to do. Texas alone boasts an astounding possible production capability of 10,000 MW from geothermal sources, though at this point this potential is largely untapped. Much of the reticence towards the widespread adoption of geothermal power across the United States comes from the high initial costs of setting up the power plants themselves.
However, once past the hurdle of the cost of getting geothermal energy going, it is easy to see why it is such an amazing and versatile source of power. Geothermal reservoirs are incredibly sustainable long-term as water can be reinjected into reservoirs to maintain operable pressure. Additionally, while solar and wind energy production are contingent on the weather, relying on sunny and windy days respectively, geothermal energy is effectively weather-proof which makes it an ideal source of clean, renewable energy.
Understanding How Much Energy Geothermal Provides
Geothermal energy has the potential to meet essentially all of the country’s power needs if properly implemented. Low estimates for the potential energy production from geothermal sources at 35GW while less conservative estimates peg geothermal as capable of producing up to 2TW of power. To sweeten the deal, geothermal power also produces only one-sixth of the CO2 that a traditional natural gas plant produces, effectively making the entire process almost carbon-free.
The amount of energy that a geothermal source is capable of producing can be measured in a number of ways including through the use of relatively low-tech flumes. At one point in time, geothermal plants were built as large as possible in order to quickly meet economic convenience; however, modern geothermal plants are built to match the capabilities of the geothermal reservoir they utilize. This new, more measured method of building geothermal plants is done with sustainability and renewability in mind over the quick production of power.
Geothermal currently only makes up a tiny portion of renewable energy-based electricity production. However, with the appropriate infrastructure in place and the drive to switch over completely to renewable, sustainable energy sources over fossil fuels, the potential for geothermal energy is almost limitless. The costs associated with an overhaul of this size would be substantial, but the cost of doing nothing in the face of climate change will be far worse.
Why Geothermal Is So Versatile
It isn’t just large corporations or governments that are capitalizing on geothermal energy either. For homeowners that are looking for the greenest possible heating solution for their homes, geothermal heat pumps excel at saving energy and money over traditional HVAC systems. Homeowners who have geothermal systems in their homes benefit from reduced costs to their heating and cooling bills and for the most part, new technology and drilling techniques have made it possible to implement some level of geothermal energy usage nearly anywhere in the United States.
It is important to note that, much like the costs associated with constructing geothermal power plants, the initial costs of installing a home geothermal pump system can be quite high going up to $30,000. This cost is offset within 5 to 10 years as a residential home will see their energy bills reduced by up to 40 percent annually. While these residential units are making use of geothermal energy strictly for heating and cooling, the potential for geothermal production of electricity by either government bodies or corporations is astronomical.
Even though geothermal energy has received fewer tax incentives than either solar or wind energy, geothermal remains a popular option for both climate control on the smaller scale for individual homeowners and electricity production at a larger scale. While geothermal energy has been largely ignored for quite some time, it was largely due to its seemingly outdated past. New technology is changing that story and will hopefully open up the world of geothermal energy even further with improvements to efficiency.
Geothermal energy should no longer be America’s overlooked renewable. It is an efficient, sustainable, and nearly carbon-free method of energy production. While geothermal is already getting plenty of use around the country, it is time to start looking into letting geothermal power shine.