Authored by Geoff Vaughan in Energy
Published on 01-31-2009
As the world moves ever closer to peak oil (some think we already reached it a while ago) and more and more of our natural resources are depleted, scientists have been searching for alternative sources of energy that are as inexpensive as the ones in current use. Wind farms have taken off in some parts of the world, with massive windmills rotating and generating electricity with their turbines. With this energy source, however, are environmental and cost issues, as well as the fact that many people think wind farms make the countryside unattractive. Solar energy is another advancement that has made big strides lately toward becoming more mainstream. Solar cells are slowly becoming more efficient and less expensive, so this is another avenue that shows promise in replacing our current, dominant methods of generating power for the world.
One power source that also makes use of natural phenomena such as wind or sunshine is geothermal power. This method works by generating energy via heat that is stored in the earth. As most people know, the inside of the earth is made up of extremely hot molten rock, with the temperature the highest closest to the center. The reason for all of this heat is the extreme pressure the layers of rock are under due to all of the weight of the layers above. In certain parts of the world, this heat escapes through cracks or fissures in the earth’s crust, and scientists have figured out how to harness this heat to generate energy.
This method of power generation has been around for a long time, as it was first tested in 1904 by the Italian Prince Piero Ginori Conti. With all this time for development, one would think that this power source would become one of the world’s main sources of power, but this is not the case. In fact, less than one percent of the world’s power comes from geothermal plants.
This source of power is completely sustainable, unlike other methods of generating power based on fossil fuels, which will eventually run out. The reason for this is that the heat extracted by a geothermal power plant is extremely small when compared to the total amount of heat inside the earth. Even though the local areas where the heat is tapped from may need to recover at times, this heat is just replenished from the reservoir of heat below, which is virtually unlimited.
Geothermal power is not without its disadvantages, however, as there are environmental concerns. The land surrounding a geothermal power plant can become unstable at times if the plant uses a technique where it injects water into the rock to draw the heat out. Greenhouse gases can be emitted as well, although at a rate far below that of plants which run on fossil fuels.
In all, this method of power, despite a few limitations, holds a lot of promise for the future of the world’s energy production. As the race is on to convert our power generation to sustainable methods before fossil fuels run out, geothermal power is one option that we would be wise to consider.