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Geothermal Energy Pros & Cons

A geothermal power plant producing clean geothermal energy.

We can harness geothermal resources in order to generate electricity. With this process comes a number of advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will take a look at these different geothermal energy pros and cons.

The Pros

Renewable and Sustainable

Geothermal energy is both renewable and sustainable. This means that it will never run out, unlike non-renewable energy sources. For as long as the earth supports life, geothermal energy will exist. Because of this, geothermal power has the edge over non-renewable alternatives.

Environmentally Friendly

Geothermal energy is an environmentally friendly energy source. When used to generate power, it has a much lower impact on the environment than using fossil fuels.

Constant Supply

Unlike other renewable energy sources, geothermal energy can provide a constant power supply. Solar panels can only produce electricity during the day. Similarly, wind turbines only produce power when there is enough wind.

The advantage of a constant electricity supply makes Geothermal energy far more predictable than its rivals.

Small Footprint

Geothermal power plants have a smaller footprint than their coal, oil, and gas equivalents. Although they will reach far down beneath the earth’s surface, their land footprint will be small.

This factor also helps to conserve land space and reduce visual pollution. 

Cost-Effective

We can use geothermal energy to provide a source of cost-effective electricity. Power generated from geothermal energy is one of the cheapest electricity sources available today.

Low Maintenance

Geothermal installations are low maintenance when compared to traditional power plants. As a result of this, they are reliable and cheap to run.

Low Noise

Generating power from geothermal energy produces little noise. The main source of noise comes from fans contained in cooling systems. To mitigate this, engineers can install dampening materials in generator houses. This helps to reduce noise pollution.

Reduces Fossil Fuel Dependency

When we use geothermal energy, we cut our dependency on fossil fuel alternatives. This is not only great for the environment. It also means we are less vulnerable to supply and demand issues associated with fossil fuels.

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 turn helps to increase our energy security.

Job Creation

The creation of a global geothermal energy industry has helped to create jobs all over the world. The geothermal industry supported 35,000 American jobs between 2012-2013. This is according to a 2014 report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA.)

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. In fact, 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).

The Cons

Geographical Limitations

Geothermal energy is arguably the most location-specific energy source known to man. Geothermal 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 tap into geothermal resources. The following countries are the main producers of geothermal power:

  • United States
  • Iceland
  • Kenya
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • Mexico

Large Investment Needed

Geothermal power plants are very expensive and often 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 this cost concerns the exploration and drilling for geothermal energy resources. Traditional power stations don’t require exploration and/or drilling.

Environmental Impacts

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 these are harmful to the environment and our 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)

The process of producing electricity from geothermal energy can also affect water quality. Chemicals used at some facilities occasionally leak and pollute the water table. Although technology exists for the safe use of these chemicals, there is always the potential for leakage to occur.

Taking the above into consideration, geothermal energy is still very environmentally friendly.

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 becoming depleted.

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 geothermal exploration project in Basel, Switzerland for causing a series of earthquakes. Some of these quakes measured 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.

Overview

So there we have the pros and cons of geothermal energy. On the plus side, it is renewable, sustainable, 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 energy is that it can only be used in specific parts of the world. There are also several 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 our articles on solar and wind energy.