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Energy crisis: geothermal advantages and disadvantages

Woman pondering geothermal advantages and disadvantages in hot spring

Some geothermal elements are only advantageous, like natural hot springs with mountain views. 

Energy crisis: geothermal advantages and disadvantages

By Dhanesh Misir on March 19, 2018

As with all power sources, when it comes to geothermal, advantages and disadvantages abound

Some trends disappear over time, but there are others that tend to stick around for the long haul. One such resilient, time-enduring example is the ongoing desire to save on energy costs. As our technology has evolved, we’ve uncovered new and innovative ways of staying comfortable. Price points and availability can vary as you look from one option to the next, and some are considerably more sustainable than others.  

For those unfamiliar with geothermal, advantages and disadvantages are to be expected when it comes to this energy source. Deciding which side carries more weight, however, is a matter that will be determined by the individual and his or her preferences.  
 

What is geothermal energy, exactly? 

Geothermal energy is essentially heat that is taken from beneath the earth’s surface. This heat is then used to create sustainable, clean energy. The harnessing of this power typically requires a small environmental footprint as well. Geothermal resources are hot water reservoirs that can be found at different depths under the surface of the earth. The wells that are drilled into these resources produce extremely hot water and steam that can be utilized for electricity production, heating and cooling, or even direct use.   

Generally, a geothermal system operates as follows:  

  • The ground is used as the heat source, and a network of connected pipes is buried in it, near the building that will be utilizing the power.  
     
  • Depending on whether the air is warmer or cooler than the soil, a liquid circulating through the pipes will either release heat into the ground or absorb it.  
     
  • Geothermal heat pumps extract the heat from the liquid in the pipes, before concentrating it and moving it into the building being heated. The opposite occurs when the pump is being used for cooling.  
     
  • The air from the heat pump is typically distributed throughout a building via conventional ductwork.   

If you’ve asked the question “what is geothermal energy?” and you’ve found it hard to find answers – or an instruction manual – don’t be discouraged! Applications like geothermal heat pumps can be an effective solution for both commercial and residential buildings. In addition to heating and cooling living spaces, their uses also include heating for water.  
 

Geothermal energy is all about the transfer and distribution of heat.
 

What are the advantages of geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy solutions are gaining in popularity for good reason. They can serve a variety of unique purposes, in addition to providing users with a number of benefits and advantages. There are some conveniences to be enjoyed as well, and one advantage of geothermal energy is the fact that they can work with most up-to-date digital thermostats. “The good (programmable) thermostats are able to be set up in any application,” says Russ, an HVAC Expert on JustAnswer, “from geothermal to heat pump.”  

Both geothermal advantages and disadvantages can be compelling, depending on what you consider most important. Other notable geothermal advantages include:  

  • Less environmental impact – Compared to more conventional fuel alternatives, like oil and coal, geothermal processes have a much less significant impact on the environment. Additionally, geothermal power plants come along with a much smaller land footprint than alternative plants.  
     
  • Sustainability – For as long as the planet Earth is intact, its thermal resources aren’t going anywhere. This makes the energy produced by geothermal applications both sustainable and renewable.  
     
  • Lower maintenance demands – Some will shy away from initial costs, but once a geothermal plant is built, they will generally require much less maintenance in comparison to coal or nuclear power plants.  
     
  • Renewable but still reliable – Although geothermal isn’t the first type of renewable energy to hit the market, it makes a strong case for being the most dependable of its kind. Solar and wind-based energy solutions can only produce in the right conditions, such as during the daytime for solar panels and when there is enough wind blowing for turbines. Geothermal energy, on the other hand, comes with a constant supply.  
     

What about the disadvantages of geothermal energy? 

Even when it looks like the good is drastically outweighing the bad, there’s always going to be some kind of a downside. This principle applies to geothermal energy, just as it can apply to nearly everything else. The following list highlights some of the drawbacks associated with geothermal:   

  • Highly dependent on location – Geothermal activity varies based on location, with the best results found along tectonic fault lines. Significant levels of energy can be procured via geothermal plants, but only when they are established in suitable areas.  
     
  • Initial cost of investment – Compared to the investments needed to establish coal or oil-based power plants, geothermal costs are considerably higher. Much of the costs stem from the drilling and exploration operations needed to begin utilizing a geothermal resource.  
     
  • Cold weather errors – Although it should be avoidable, one disadvantage of geothermal energy comes in the form of errors when the temperature outside drops. Error codes can occur from time to time, but if you consistently notice them when it’s very cold out, your system might not have been installed correctly. Installing an undersized heat pump or pipe system could save money on the installation, but it also leaves you with a system that can’t combat the more extreme temperatures. 
     
  • Incited Earth tremors – Although geothermal solutions are generally better for the environment than the alternatives, they do come along with some concern regarding earthquakes. Tremors have been connected to geothermal technology usage, and although usually minor, some of these quakes have caused considerable property damage.  

As is usually the case, there's an upside as well as a downside when it comes to geothermal energy. Deciding on the best options for yourself might be a challenge, but it can be much easier if you take your situation and preferences into account. Another useful practice is seeking out advice from industry professionals! To learn more about geothermal advantages and disadvantages, reach out to the Experts on JustAnswer today.  
 

Know a thing or two about geothermal? Or do you have an endless list of questions on the subject? Share your inquiries and experiences in the comments below!