Throughout the history of its existence, humankind has been increasingly using energy for the purposes of industrial development of civilizations. Natural resources, such as gas, coal, and oil have so far been the key sources of energy. However, as the aforementioned resources are non-renewable, the issue of using alternative sources of energy has emerged.
Among the many options investigated nowadays by the scientists, geothermal energy occupies not the last place, possessing a number of both advantages and disadvantages that make it a point of debate in the energy-seeking society.
As such, geothermal energy can be defined as the energy of the Earth (in Greek, “geo” means “earth”, and “therme” means “heat”) (California Energy Commission, 2010). Deep underneath the Earth surface, there is a thick layer of magma, liquid rock so hot that at the depth of ten thousand feet its heat would be enough to boil water.
Underground water reservoirs are sometimes situated close enough to the magma layer and warm up to over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Nowadays people use those natural hot water reservoirs either directly, when hot water springs are located close to the surface, or indirectly, by pumping hot water and steams to the electricity generation power plants or geothermal heat pumps controlling temperature of buildings above ground (California Energy Commission, 2010).
Employing geothermal energy as an alternative to traditional energy sources is attractive due to a number of advantages. For one thing, geothermal energy is characterized by renewability and sustainability (Geothermal Education Office, 2009).
Heat radiation is emitted continuously from within the Earth, and annual precipitation regularly refills the underground reservoirs with huge amounts of water. Therefore, it is possible to sustain the production of geothermal bases for at least centuries on end. For another thing, using the renewable and sustainable geothermal energy allows for considerable saving of exhaustible and polluting resources, such as fossil fuels and nuclear materials.
Environmental impacts are thus lowered by eliminating the necessity for mining, processing and transporting fossil fuels (Geothermal Energy Association, 2010). In addition, using geothermal energy considerably reduces the risks of global warming compared to other energy sources. Geothermal energy plants have been found to emit a sufficiently low amount of the key greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, which makes this type of energy plants an attractive environmentally friendly alternative (Geothermal Energy Association, 2010).
Along with the aforementioned attractive characteristics, the rosy prospects of geothermal energy are marred by a number of disadvantages. Firstly, due to geographical locations, geothermal sources are not universally available and are concentrated mainly along the sites with high volcanic activity.
Secondly, drilling necessary for geothermal development may be seriously hampered by peculiarities of landscape. Thus, for example, there is no question of developing geothermal energy sites in national parks which are, however, full of geysers. Thirdly, due to high concentration of silica in hot-water reservoirs, the pipes used in geothermal industry suffer high rates of corrosion and therefore require costly scaling.
In the modern world struggling to preserve the remaining exhaustible resources and satisfy the ever-growing need for energy by employing alternative sources of energy, geothermal energy appears to be one of the best solutions. Despite certain disadvantageous features like unevenness in location and costliness, geothermal energy possesses valuable characteristics of renewability and sustainability that make it an attractive alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
California Energy Commission. (2010). Geothermal Energy. Web.
Geothermal Education Office. (2009). Geothermal Energy. Retrieved from http://geothermaleducation.org/
Geothermal Energy Association. (2010). Geothermal Basics. Retrieved from http://www.geo-energy.org/geo_basics.aspx