Thursday, May 9, 2013

How practical is geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy attracts plenty of interest on global energy market, despite the fact that this energy source is still far off from turning its abundant potential into a more significant role in generating clean electricity. Geothermal energy has abundant resources that are estimated to be larger than those of fossil fuels and uranium combined. There has been a variety of different studies aimed to determine how much usable geothermal energy is available, and the consensus seems to indicate there is enough resources to last somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 years. From our perspective this certainly looks like limitless form of renewable energy

Geothermal power is mostly used to generate electricity in geothermal power plants. The deciding factor for most companies when building any new power plant are the construction and maintenance costs. If we compare geothermal power plant with the one fired by fossil fuels we can see that the cost of operating the geothermal plant is pretty much competitive to that of the plant that uses fossil fuel to power the turbines. The obvious distinction between the two is that the emissions that fossil fuels give off are full of pollutants, which is not only one of our major health concerns but also contributes to climate change, while geothermal energy is connected with minimum amount of harmful emissions.
The best example on how to really benefit from geothermal energy comes from Iceland. There should be no surprise here because harnessing geothermal energy seems logical and natural with so many geothermal springs on the island. In fact, with all the volcanic activity they have one might say that Iceland is one big geothermal spring. Currently about 75% of Iceland's power comes from geothermal energy and they are striving to be the first county to be 100% renewable by primarily focusing on geothermal energy and to the lesser extent on other renewables such as hydro and wind.

In order for practically and commercially harness geothermal energy developers must first find an adequate site known as a geothermal spring. Once a promising site is found, drilling is needed to determine if there are sufficient geothermal resources below. How deep you have to drill is not the same in all case, the basic rule is that for every 100 meters you go deeper into the earth’s crust, the temperature of the rocks increases by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Once an appropriate geothermal spring has been located, geothermal power plant is constructed and the generation of clean electricity can start.

The vast majority of currently harnessed geothermal springs are found along the major tectonic boundaries, which represents the area where the majority of volcanic activities and earthquakes are concentrated. The most active volcanic areas have been located along the so called "Ring of Fire"

There are still certain drawbacks that prevent geothermal power from being widely used source of energy. For instance, geothermal springs are found only in limited number of areas and the technology to harness geothermal energy is yet to become commercial though EGS (enhanced geothermal systems) provide a certain level of optimism that the feasibility of building new geothermal power plants could be spread to many new areas all over the world.

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