Geothermal energy is, by definition, energy that is derived from the planet’s natural heating processes. This is done though a number of means both in terms of heat regulation as well as energy production as has been a mainstay in many civilizations for thousands of years.
The primary concept behind geothermal energy lies in tapping into both “hot” and “cold” zones of the Earth in order to both provide heating and cooling measures for homes as well as superheat water to power energy generating turbines. The heating and cooling aspects have been used in many societies since ancient Greece and are still commonplace in countries such as Iceland that use naturally heated water to circulate homes and provide a natural heating solution in the winter. Further, a few meters below the Earth’s crust a regular temperature of roughly 55 degrees Fahrenheit is maintained year round, and by circulating a conducting agent such as water or antifreeze through pipes embedded in this area and then through both floors and walls of buildings a natural cooling process can be used in summer months as well.
In terms of pure energy production geothermal electricity plants operate traditionally by drilling two holes into areas where the Earth’s surface is relatively thing – usually near fault lines or developing volcanoes – in order to allow both a “feed” and an “exit” hole for water. Cold water is then pumped into the feed hole deep into the planet where it is superheated by the planet’s natural temperatures to thousands of degrees and then exit via steam through the secondary hole where it is channeled into a turbine to produce power. This allows for extraordinary amounts of energy to be produced year round and then fed back into local power grids for usage.
The primary drawbacks of geothermal energy production are location and cost of development. Because only relatively thin crust locations are suitable for geothermal plant locations due to the amount of heat close to the surface this means that not all areas of the planet are able to sustain a geothermal power plant. Further, high development costs are generally associated with geothermal plant establishment due to the extensive surveys necessary to locate suitable locations as well as the inherent unsafe nature of many locations – since the most suitable spots are near fault lines and developing volcanoes this could potentially mean a rather unsafe establishment of a power production facility if not handled appropriately as the location could be prone to both earthquakes or the volcano turning active at some point.
Nevertheless high interest has been placed on geothermal energy development in recent years with some locations such as the northwest United States being keen areas of focus for developers due to their high concentration of geological “hot spots” and other factors. Additional research is also being conducted into ways in which to allow geothermal plants to be developed in “cooler” spots, however this has proven difficult at our current level of technology and progress has been further been slowed due to investor interest in other areas promising more immediate returns such as solar, wind or biofuel based power.
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