Nowadays, there is a range of sources of energy that are used all over the world and possess their own advantages and disadvantages. Among them, there is geothermal energy that presents a mature source of renewable energy that is often referred to as other sources of energy. The efficiency of this type of energy is also high, which makes it an appropriate choice for many developed and developing countries. The popularity of geothermal energy continues to grow due to the many advantages that it provides. The given work aims at reviewing the key tendencies related to the use and generation of geothermal energy, analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of this source of energy, and the possibility for the United States to use this energy resource to achieve energy independence. The experience of other countries and the economic and environmental advantages of the use of geothermal energy make this source a necessary component in the overall energy landscape.
Geothermal Energy: An Overview of the Energy Source
The production of geothermal energy has increased in many countries recently, and it indicates that its use provides numerous advantages to countries. For instance, the United States belongs to the number of the largest users of geothermal energy in the world. Geothermal energy can be listed among the most popular sources of alternative energy that is extracted from the decay of radioactive materials in the center of the earth. Speaking about the way that geothermal energy is produced, it needs to be said that the temperature is extremely different in various layers of the interior structure of the planet. Due to the difference in temperature, the geothermal energy that is stored in the center of the planet moves to its surface. The way that geothermal energy is released is strictly interconnected with the type of landscape. For instance, in those regions with an obvious volcanic activity, hot water can reach the surface of our planet due to the presence of numerous earth rifts (Griebler et al. 1391). When it comes to the seismically quiet regions of different countries, hot water can be released with the help of specially drilled wellbores. Thus, there are different ways that geothermal energy is released into the environment.
Humanity started using geothermal energy a long time ago, and the way that our remote ancestors used it is not extremely different from those goals that we fulfil with the help of geothermal energy today. When the beneficial properties of geothermal energy were discovered, many people in different countries started using geothermal pools and hot wells in order to take hot baths and, therefore, decrease the morbidity of cold-related diseases. At the same time, the properties of geothermal energy were used to create the simplest room heating systems.
The methods that people use to benefit from the geothermal potential of our planet are numerous, and geothermal energy can help to fulfil a wide range of tasks such as room heating, the creation of geothermal heat pumps, and even the generation of electricity. At the same time, when it comes to the use of geothermal energy and underlying problems that can occur, it needs to be said that it strongly depends on the type of landscape. In some regions, the cost-effectiveness of the extraction of geothermal energy still presents a controversial question.
The Generation and the Use of Geothermal Energy
There is a range of factors that define the ability of people in different countries to access geothermal energy and use it in an effective manner. Nowadays, it is acknowledged by the majority of researchers in the field that the use of geothermal energy is inseparable from a number of geographic disparities. In particular, it is known that, due to a significant difference related to geological data and reserves, people in many countries have limited access to necessary natural elements (Bleicher and Gross 12). Apart from the impact of those inequalities predetermined by the presence or absence of natural resources, the use of geothermal energy is also impacted by social factors. The case of Germany remains one of the brightest examples that can illustrate the way that the degree of development impacts the condition of geothermal energetics. Thus, people in the Eastern part of Germany have more access to heat pumps than their compatriots due to the unequal development of technology.
A great number of ways to use geothermal energy has always been regarded as a significant advantage, encouraging people to contribute to further development of geothermal energetics. The direct utilization of geothermal energy is extremely popular in more than sixty countries; geothermal energy is directly used in both developed and developing countries (Lund and Boyd 66). According to the article by Lund and Boyd, the direct use of geothermal energy has increased by more than 46% since 2010, and it can also be regarded as the evidence of numerous advantages that the development of geothermal energetics involves (66). Among the key tasks that can be fulfilled with the help of geothermal energy, there is the creation of heating and cooling systems that are used in residential accommodations and tourist facilities, swimming pools, and spa tubs. Also, it needs to be said that geothermal energy is successfully used to heat greenhouses, facilitate various industrial processes, melt snow, and create agricultural drying equipment.
The direct use of the discussed source of energy has grown recently due to the increasing popularity of geothermal heat pumps. One of the first geothermal heat pumps was built in the middle of the twentieth century, and the proper operational and technical characteristics of the first geothermal heat pump have made a significant contribution to its popularity. Even though there are many countries that use geothermal heat pumps for heating, the installed production capacity of the latter varies from country to country. Among those countries where the capacity of geothermal heat pumps is the highest, there are “China, Sweden, Germany, and France”, and the United States remains the world leader again (Lund and Boyd 68). Taking that into account, it is clear that the further development of geothermal energetics in the United States is expected to produce positive results, decreasing the country’s import dependence.
A few decades ago, geothermal energy was believed to be a source of energy that could be used primarily for heating purposes. Nevertheless, with the lapse of time, the number of ways to use geothermal energy has increased. Nowadays, this energy source is used for geothermal electricity generation in many countries. Just like in the case concerning the use of geothermal energy for heating purposes, the United States remains one of the global leaders in terms of the geothermal electricity generation. Speaking about the opportunity to generate electricity with the help of geothermal energy, it is pivotal to take into account the total operating power of electric plants where geothermal energy is used. In fact, many researchers believe that the total operating power of geothermal power plants is lower than that of plants that use other sources of renewable energy. Despite that, the application of this method to generate electricity is associated with numerous advantages as the use of geothermal energy does not involve air and water contamination unlike the use of other common energy resources.
An important factor that should be taken into account to evaluate the potential of the further development of geothermal energetics refers to the amount of natural resources and the type of landscape. It is widely accepted that there is a limited number of countries that possess geothermal resources potential. Apart from other signs demonstrating the existence of this potential, the latter can be defined based on the presence of active volcanoes and the amount of groundwater available. Nowadays, the use of geothermal power for electricity generation can be regarded as an opportunity for people in countries with developing economies to improve their well-being. Indonesia presents one of the brightest examples of countries whose geothermal potential has helped to address the problem related to the limited access to electricity. Knowing that the geothermal potential of Indonesia can be used is a more effective manner, the authorities of the country are still searching for the ways to increase the efficiency of power plants (Alhamid et al. 733). As is clear from the example of Indonesia, the opportunity to use this renewable energy source heavily depends on the availability of natural resources.
There are different types of power plants that use geothermal energy to provide the population with electricity. Among them, there is dry steam power plant that works due to the extraction of hot water; this type of power plant is often regarded as the simplest. Also, there are binary cycle power plants that are capable of extracting energy even from groundwater at relatively low temperatures. Finally, flash steam power plants use water at very high temperatures. Obviously, each type of geothermal power plants has its own advantages and disadvantages, but the opportunity to apply a wide range of electricity generation techniques to improve the well-being of people can be listed among factors that make geothermal energy a good component in the overall energy landscape.
Geothermal Energy and Achieving Energy Independence
The need to encourage the further development of geothermal energetics in the United States is supported by a number of advantages that this type of energy has. Considering that the country needs to achieve energy independence, the advantages of using more geothermal power should be examined. One of the most significant advantages of geothermal energy is its being one of the sources of renewable power. Renewable sources of energy have numerous advantages as the majority of countries have access to at least one of them. Speaking about geothermal energy in particular and its key advantages, it is pivotal to note that groundwater or steam that help to generate electricity can be used many times as there is an opportunity to pump it back.
Apart from that, there are numerous advantages associated with the use of geothermal power that are caused by the absence of harmful waste. To begin with, the extensive use of geothermal energy to generate electricity can have a positive impact on the quality of air and water as it reduces littering (Ellabban et al. 750). Taking into account the properties of this source of renewable energy, it is clear that it is possible to significantly reduce the need for new waste landfills and, therefore, improve ecological situation. The latter is especially important for the United States and other developed countries whose authorities are concerned about the most effective industrial waste management strategies.
Another advantage of geothermal energy related to the environment is manifested in “reduced smog and toxic chemical emissions” (Ellabban et al. 751). Thus, encouraging the building of new geothermal power plants, the United States and other countries that still depend on import of fossil fuels have an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Thus, the growth of geothermal energetics will allow them to achieve a more independent energy supply and reduce the morbidity of lung diseases and infectious diseases that are connected with the level of air pollution. This advantage is also important on a global scale as the reduced emission of greenhouse gases associated with the use of geothermal energy helps to slow down climate change.
The use of geothermal energy also involves economic advantages for developed countries such as the United States. Geothermal systems are relatively cheap to operate, and the use of extremely expensive materials is not required. Also, the use of this type of energy does not involve the significant fluctuations of electricity tariffs due to the nature of the energy source. Continuing on the topic of its advantages, the building of new geothermal power plants in the United States will also help to address the problem of unemployment in the country.
The use of geothermal energy also involves certain disadvantages, but they do not reduce the opportunity for this energy source to help the United States to become more independent in terms of energy. The generation potential of geothermal energy is believed to be smaller than that of other renewable sources, but energy capacity of power plants that use it can be improved (Demirbas et al. 2238). In addition, the development of geothermal energetics in the United States will involve significant costs as there would be a need for special research, the installation of new equipment, and staff education. Nevertheless, additional costs remain an essential component of new energy strategies. Based on the benefits of the energy source, it is clear that an increased use of geothermal energy preceded by additional research will become an important step on the road to energy independence of the United States.
In the end, the use of geothermal energy can contribute to the energy independence of the United States due to various advantages that it involves. Geothermal energy can be generated despite difficult weather parameters whereas the use of solar and wind energy requires the presence of special meteorological conditions. Other implications of the energy strategy that involves the extensive use of geothermal energy include improved environmental conditions and health. Nevertheless, it will be impossible to rely only on one energy source despite all positive implications of its use. The perfect strategy that will make the United States more independent in terms of energy should also include efforts aimed at increasing the use of other renewable energy sources that do not involve environmental harm.
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Demirbas, Ayhan, et al. “Potential of Geothermal Energy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Energy Sources, Part A: Recovery, Utilization, and Environmental Effects, vol. 38, no. 15, 2016, pp. 2238-2243.
Ellabban, Omar, et al. “Renewable Energy Resources: Current Status, Future Prospects and their Enabling Technology.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, vol. 39, 2014, pp. 748-764.
Griebler, Christian, et al. “Potential Impacts of Geothermal Energy Use and Storage of Heat on Groundwater Quality, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Processes.” Environmental Earth Sciences, vol. 75, no. 20, 2016, p. 1391.
Lund, John W., and Tonya L. Boyd. “Direct Utilization of Geothermal Energy 2015 Worldwide Review.” Geothermics, vol. 60, 2016, pp. 66-93.