Geothermal Energy Pros and Cons
As technology continues its unstoppable march forwards, we require more and more energy to go about our daily lives. The average American citizen uses more electricity over the course of their lives than entire towns used to less than a century ago, but every method of power generation has its downsides.
Even renewable energy sources (which are widely praised) sometimes have huge disadvantages. We’re going to explore the pros and cons of geothermal energy in this article so that you can decide whether the good outweighs the bad. However, we’ll first take a look at a couple of frequently asked questions about geothermal energy.
Is Geothermal Energy Renewable?
The first thing that many people wonder is whether or not geothermal energy is renewable. Renewable energy sources can never run out, unlike coal or oil, which exist in finite amounts throughout the world. Since geothermal power uses the heat of the earth, it is easy to classify as a renewable source of energy.
Since the earth’s core is made out of superheated metal, it won’t be running out of energy to provide anytime soon. Keep in mind that a renewable energy source isn’t automatically good for the environment, but we’ll take a closer look at the environmental impact of geothermal power in the next section.
Does Geothermal Energy Cause Pollution?
Since geothermal energy production causes a lot less pollution than the current methods that we use to generate electricity, people usually assume that it’s pollution-free. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as some environmental problems are caused by geothermal power.
Due to the abundant amount of greenhouse gases that are trapped below the earth’s surface, drilling operations for geothermal plants tend to release a lot of them. Notably higher levels of these gases have been measured in the atmosphere around geothermal plants, and they can cause damage to the ozone layer.
This isn’t the only issue, as these gases contain other elements which can be harmful to the environment. Gases coming from beneath the earth often contain heavy metals and other particles that can be toxic to humans and animals, so drilling operations must be performed with care.
These elements aren’t only found in the gases that come out from beneath the earth, as they may also be brought to the surface by drilling rigs. For this reason, wildlife must be kept away from geothermal power plants, as they may be poisoned by some of these heavy metals (including mercury, arsenic, and more).
While this may sound like a lot of issues related to geothermal power, it’s environmental impact is still nowhere near as severe as that of fossil fuels. Geothermal energy produces about 100 pounds of CO2 per MWh of electricity, whereas coal creates 2200 pounds of CO2 per MWh.
Pros of Geothermal Energy
One of the main advantages of geothermal energy is that it’s a lot more ecologically friendly than other methods of producing electricity. It results in a minimal carbon footprint that doesn’t noticeably increase pollution, especially when compared to fossil fuels, which are our main method of electrical production.
Since geothermal energy is renewable, we also won’t ever have to worry about running out of power when we use it. If the world’s core stops producing heat, then we’ll have larger problems on our hands then where we’re going to get our electricity from.
Since there is so much energy available in the ground, we can also scale up geothermal energy production to provide even more power in the long run. The only thing that’s holding back geothermal power is that it’s a lot less profitable than other forms of power generation.
When compared to other renewable energy sources, including solar power and wind, geothermal energy is also a lot more reliable. You won’t have to deal with sudden fluctuations in output when using geothermal power, so we won’t need to store as much energy in case of cloudy or windless days.
Small-scale applications of geothermal energy are also popular, and many homeowners are adopting heating and cooling systems for their homes. This helps reduce the overall drain on the power grid, resulting in less demand for electricity that is produced using fossil fuels, further improving geothermal power’s eco-friendliness.
Cons of Geothermal Energy
As we mentioned earlier, a minor downside to geothermal energy is that it can cause light pollution, especially if the plant is improperly managed. Thankfully, most power plants pump the heavy metals and other harmful elements back underground through their injection well, which has the added benefit of stimulating geothermal activity.
One of the biggest problems with geothermal power plants is that they can result in ground instability, and they have even been known to cause earthquakes. Perhaps the most notable occurrence of this type was in Switzerland back in 1997, when the creation of plant started a 3.4 magnitude earthquake.
The cost of geothermal power plants is another huge hurdle, as they take a lot of work to set up. The main challenge that is dealt with when building these plants is digging the underground channels that will be used to circulate the geothermal fluid, as it takes a lot of time and heavy machinery.
Whether or not geothermal power is efficient will also depend on where the power plant is built, as it will need to be near a geothermal reservoir. This is why countries with high tectonic activity have such large concentrations of geothermal power plants, and why they may be inefficient elsewhere.
Finally, geothermal power plants take a lot more expertise and training to manage properly when compared to those using fossil fuel. This is mainly due to geothermal energy being far less prevalent than other energy sources, and we can expect this to change over time.
We would argue that the pros far outweigh the cons of geothermal energy, especially when you consider that this form of power doesn’t slowly kill the earth, like oil and coal. Of course, we’re only here to present the facts, so feel free to come to your own conclusions about geothermal power.