Geothermal energy is one of the worlds emerging sources of energy, crucial to the sustainability of our planet in the decades and centuries to come. From drawing energy from the heat deep within the earths core, geothermal electricity can power any home, business or factory. In this article we aim to demystify the process, and answer that burning question: how does geothermal energy work?
The first energy to arise from a geothermal source was produced in Italy in the early 20th century. From then, the use of geothermal as a source from energy has increased significantly, with the US seen as the worlds major provider. OK, so how does geothermal energy work?
When generating electricity from geothermal means (heat energy from within the earth), there are three main types of process: dry steam, binary and flash.
- Dry steam power plants work by taking steam from deep beneath the earths surface to drive a turbine to consequently spin a generator.
- Flash works in a similar way, making use of boiling water from below the earths surface which it then subsequently separates from the steam which is ultimately used to power a generator.
- Binary plants rely on the heat generated from the water to boil other substances, of which the steam again spins a generator. It is seen as a really clean, renewable source of energy, and one that will certainly be here to stay for the foreseeable future. By effectively generating electricity in a wholly clean manner, this will become an increasingly important technology in years to come.
Where Geothermal Energy is Born
Having discussed the issue of how does geothermal energy work, we are now in a position to look at the geography involved, and the options for the future. The biggest dry steam plant in the world is located in San Francisco, California, known as The Geysers. This field alone produces about 1/8 of the world supply of geothermal energy.
California is again host to another major production centre, namely near the Salton Sea, which is home to 15 power plants dedicated to producing geothermal energy. Geothermal is also an emerging market in areas like Africa, where it is extremely cost effective to produce this type of energy, as compared to the United States which makes it quite expensive at the moment.
There are also plans to establish sites around various other locations around the world, which is the beauty of geothermal energy: it is not confined to one continent, and the resource is not scarce in the traditional sense. Having said that, over time the rocks will cool which will lead to less steam production, therefore it could be viewed as similar to a fossil fuel, in that its stocks will continue to deplete in a given area over time. Nevertheless, the technology was a major breakthrough, and gives hope for a future world without oil.
So how does geothermal energy work? Geothermal works to power turbines to create electricity. There are numerous different ways in which this can be achieved, and it looks as if this technology is here to stay. With the cost of production continually falling, it is no wonder that Geothermal energy is increasing in popularity and viability, as a wholly organic source of powering our daily lives.