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Pros and Cons of Geothermal Energy

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Authored by Neal F. Litherland in Energy
Published on 10-27-2009

One of the major issues for a lot of people right now is renewable energy. There are dozens of options and theories that don’t involve burning fossil fuels, from building wind farms and tidal generators to using hydrogen power. However, many of these ideas can’t quite compete with fossil fuels on either the price or efficiency scales. One option that is being used though, and which has been proven to work, is geothermal energy.

Let’s take a minute to be clear as to what geothermal power is and isn’t. In the earth’s crust there are pockets of steam that form due to the constantly changing nature of the rock that makes up the planet. As rock is melted and hardened, steam can be caught in pockets. This steam can be tapped into and piped to the surface where it is used to spin turbines to create electricity. This system has a great deal of benefits, and it has been used very successfully in a variety of countries, including the United States. There are some drawbacks to it though, so don’t rush out to start prospecting just yet.

First let’s take a look at the benefits this offers. Geothermal energy is clean, ecologically safe energy that doesn’t use fossil fuels. Geothermal power plants employ a large number of people which is a necessary endeavor in this age of high unemployment. Geothermal power plants also make the sources of electricity more stable since power is produced locally in the given country and it doesn’t rely on the import of foreign coal or oil to keep the processes going. Geothermal energy is also relatively stable, geographically speaking, so a power plant should be able to use the energy for a long time.

Now for some of the downsides of geothermal energy. First of all, building a new power plant and sinking lines into the ground is expensive. So is the mining required for discovering where geothermal hot spots actually are. Also, while the broad area where geothermal power can be found doesn’t change, new pockets of steam in that area must be found as old ones dry out. Think of it like drinking a milkshake… you need to re-position the straw, even though it’s going back into the same glass. Lastly, while geothermal power is clean and fairly reliable, it still doesn’t produce large enough quantities in a cheap enough cost to replace fossil fuels and coal in the American market.

While looking at the ups and downs of geothermal power, it becomes very clear that this is a method that can be used to help slow or stop dependency on oil and fossil fuels. However, geothermal energy, like any alternate energy source, isn’t enough by itself. If geothermal power, solar power, wind energy, tidal generators, and other forms of green energy are all combined and embraced though, there is no reason that fossil fuels should be used to generate electricity at all. When all of the options are combined, they could replace what’s become a fading staple of the modern world… but until the drawbacks are overcome or there are no other options, chances are that it won’t happen.

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