Published on October 22nd, 2007 | by Scott Cooney
The Uses of Geothermal Energy
The uses of geothermal energy in homes, farming, industry, infrastructure, and electricity.
Geothermal energy has more uses than you might imagine. Basically, geothermal energy technology taps into subsurface areas where desired temperatures exist. The uses of geothermal energy range depending on the needs.
Uses of Geothermal Energy for Houses
If you’re looking to cool your home in the summer, for example, one of the uses of geothermal energy technologies is to allow you in hot times to take heat from your house, send it down pipes into the ground (where it naturally cools), and return it to your house (where it helps bring down the temperature inside). The technology typically uses a liquid like antifreeze as a carrier of that heat, which is moved about in a closed-loop piping system.
One of the other main uses of geothermal energy is the same concept but in reverse in cold months. Geothermal energy technology is used to bring warmer temperatures into your home without using fossil fuels, just by tapping into a heat exchange deep below the surface of the earth. Cool, right? But geothermal energy is so much more.
Uses of Geothermal Energy in Farming
Some of the common uses of geothermal energy are amongst farmers, who use geothermal energy to heat their greenhouses. Check this out (lemons grown in the middle of winter!):
In Tuscany, Italy, farmers have used water heated by geothermal energy for hundreds of years to grow vegetables in the winter. Hungary is also a major user of geothermal energy, where eighty percent of the energy demand from vegetables growers is met using geothermal energy technology.
Geothermal energy is also used in fish farms.
The warm water spurs the growth of animals ranging from alligators, shellfish, tropical fish, amphibians to catfish and trout. Fish farmers from Oregon, Idaho, China, Japan, and even Iceland use geothermal energy.
Uses of Geothermal Energy in Industry
Industry is another consumer of geothermal energy. Its uses vary from drying fruits, drying vegetables, drying wood, and dying wool to extracting gold and silver from ore. Check out this cool graphic from the state of California’s energy almanac for the varying temperatures needed for a variety of industrial geothermal energy uses.
Uses of Geothermal Energy in Infrastructure & Electricity
Geothermal energy is also used to heat sidewalks and roads in order to prevent freezing in the winter. Most recently, the Netherlands began using geothermal energy to keep bike lanes from freezing in the wintertime, for instance.
Geothermal power plants are also a good electricity generator:
- Flashed Steam Plants — The water “flash” boils and the steam is used to turn turbines.
- Dry Steam Plants — These plants rely on the natural steam that comes from the underground reservoirs to generate electricity.
- Binary Power Plants — These plants use the water to heat a “secondary liquid” which vaporizes and turns the turbines. The vaporized liquid is then condensed and reused.
- Hybrid Power Plants — In these plants, binary and flash techniques are utilized simultaneously.
It’s been estimated that the economic benefit of geothermal energy to the U.S. is about $280 million per year. It serves as a great source of renewable, baseload power for many parts of the U.S. But the potential for geothermal still exists, untapped, in a lot of areas. At last count, 450 geothermal projects were under development, so people are obviously catching on.
The most common use of geothermal energy is for heating residential districts and businesses. The first U.S. district to use geothermal energy for heating dates back to 1893. However, the French beat us by almost 500 years, as records indicate they were tapping many uses of geothermal energy back in the 15th century.