Geothermal energy describes the heat that is stored within the earth beneath our feet. We can use it to generate power and heat our homes but doing so involves a range of advantages and disadvantages. This article looks at the different pros and cons of geothermal energy.
Pros of Geothermal Energy
There are numerous benefits of using geothermal resources to help meet our growing energy demands. Let’s start by looking at the range of advantages.
1. Geothermal Energy is Renewable
Geothermal energy is both renewable and sustainable. This means it will never run out. Unlike non-renewable energy sources, it will be around for as long as the earth supports life.
2. It’s Environmentally Friendly
Geothermal energy is kind to the environment. It has a much lower impact on the earth than if we were to use fossil fuels.
3. It Can Provide a Constant Energy Supply
Unlike other renewable energy sources, geothermal can provide a constant supply of electricity. Solar panels only produce electricity during the day, making them useless at night when its dark. Similarly, wind turbines only produce power when there is enough wind.
4. Geothermal Power Plants Are Small
Geothermal power plants have a smaller footprint than their coal, oil, and gas-fired equivalents. Although they will reach far down beneath the earth’s surface, their land footprint is fairly small.
This factor helps to reduce impacts on the surrounding environment, including visual pollution. It also helps to conserve land space for other uses.
5. Geothermal Energy is Cost-Effective
We can use geothermal energy to provide a source of cost-effective electricity. The power generated from geothermal resources is one of the cheapest electricity sources available today.
6. Geothermal is Low Maintenance
Geothermal installations are low maintenance when compared to traditional power plants. As a result of this, they are cheaper to run over the long term.
7. It’s Very Quiet
Generating power from geothermal energy doesn’t make much noise. The main source of noise comes from fans contained in cooling systems. To mitigate this, engineers can install dampening materials in generator houses. Such materials can help
8. Geothermal Reduces Fossil Fuel Dependency
When we use geothermal energy, we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. This is not only great for the environment but also means we can conserve fossil fuels for future generations.
9. It Increases Energy Security
Geothermal energy can help to increase energy security. By using local geothermal resources, we reduce the need to source supplies from other countries
As a result of this, we are less reliant on external influences. This, in
10. Geothermal Energy Creates Jobs
The creation of a global geothermal energy industry has helped to create jobs all over the world. In the United States alone, the industry provided 35,000 jobs between 2012-2013. This is according to a 2014 report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA.)
11. It Has Huge Potential
Geothermal power has huge potential in some parts of the world. A recent study by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) estimates that just 6.5% of this potential has been tapped so far.
It is believed that global geothermal energy potential could be in the range of 35 gigawatts (GW) to 2 terawatts (TW.) This figure has been estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Cons of Geothermal Energy
We’ve covered the benefits so let’s now take a look at the drawbacks of geothermal energy. There are numerous disadvantages which we will cover below.
1. Geothermal Has Geographical Limitations
Geothermal energy is arguably the most location-specific energy source known to man. Thermal activity is at its greatest along tectonic fault lines within the earth’s crust. It is at these locations where geothermal has the biggest potential.
The disadvantage of this is that very few countries are able to make use of geothermal power. The following countries are its main producers:
- United States
2. Geothermal Power Requires a Large Investment
Geothermal power plants are very expensive and require significant investment. Although they have low running costs, their initial construction cost can be much higher than coal, oil, and gas power plants.
A large part of the cost involves exploration and drilling for geothermal resources. Traditional power stations don’t require exploration and/or drilling.
3. It Can Be Bad For The Environment
One of the major cons of geothermal energy is the impact it can have on the environment. Below the earth’s surface lies an abundance of gases, some of which are harmful to the atmosphere.
During the production of geothermal power, these gases sometimes escape into the atmosphere. We have listed the gases in question below. Some of these even contribute to global warming:
- Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S)
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
- Ammonia (NH3)
- Methane (CH4)
- Boron (B)
Geothermal power plants can also affect water quality. Chemicals used at some facilities occasionally leak and pollute the water table. Although the technology exists for the safe use of these chemicals, there is always the potential for leakage to occur.
Even when we take the above into consideration, geothermal energy is still better for the environment than fossil fuels.
4. It Has Sustainability Concerns
Human activity can affect the sustainability of geothermal energy. Studies show that without careful management of geothermal reservoirs, they can become depleted. In such cases, geothermal power plants would become useless until the reservoir recovers.
Advancements in technology are helping to make sustainability concerns less of an issue. Nowadays, after geothermal fluids have been used, they can be injected back to their source. As a result of this, there is less chance of a geothermal well being depleted.
5. It Could Be a Cause of Seismic Instability
There is evidence to suggest that geothermal installations have caused earth tremors in various parts of the world. Although often minor, this seismic activity can lead to building damage, injuries, and death.
In 2006, scientists blamed a series of earthquakes on a geothermal exploration project in Basel, Switzerland. These quakes were up to 3.4 on the Richter scale. A further study in 2011 found a strong correlation between geothermal exploration and seismic activity. This study focused on the area around the Salton Sea geothermal field in the United States.
So there we have a range of geothermal energy pros and cons.
On the plus side, it’s both renewable and sustainable. It’s environmentally friendly and cost-effective. It also has the advantage of being able to provide a constant power supply, unlike solar or wind.
The downside to geothermal power is that it can only be used in specific parts of the world. There are also environmental and safety concerns surrounding the use of geothermal energy.
We hope you found this article useful. Interested in comparing the pros and cons of other renewable energy sources? If so, you might want to read the following articles: