Geothermal Energy

If you lived in Iceland, “Geothermal energy” would be as familiar a term as “electric light.” It’s the country’s primary heating source, tapped directly to ninety percent of Iceland’s homes as well as keeping pavements and car parks snow-free in the winter. (The word geothermal comes from the Greek words geo [earth] and therme [heat].)

In the United States, Geothermal energy is largely untapped. In the next three decades, however, “harnessing the heat beneath our feet” will be increased substantially, potentially reaching 60 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2050. (A gigawatt is equal to one billion watts. For perspective, the light bulbs in our homes are typically between 60 and 100 watts.)

There is a great deal of exploration into geothermal energy and an increasing number of projects to improve and grow this area of industry. The potential for expending its production is virtually limitless. An assessment of geothermal resources indicates that the electric power generation potential from identified systems is 9,057 Megawatts-electric (Mwe – one million watts) distributed over thirteen states. The mean estimated power production potential from undiscovered geothermal resources is 30,033 Mwe, more than three times greater. Additionally, another estimated 517,800 MWe could be generated through implementation of technology for creating geothermal reservoirs in regions characterized by high temperature but low permeability, rock formations.

Currently, most of the geothermal power plants in the United States are in western states and Hawaii, where geothermal energy resources are close to the earth’s surface. California generates the most electricity from geothermal energy.

The concentration of plants in the west reveals the largest single disadvantage of geothermal energy is that it is location specific.

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