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Energy - Beyond Oil

Energy - Beyond Oil

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Published by dizzyman2008
Alternative Energy
Beyond Oil
Peak Oil
Alternative Energy
Beyond Oil
Peak Oil

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Published by: dizzyman2008 on Sep 02, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The term ‘geothermal energy’describes all forms of heat stored within the Earth.
The energy is emitted from the core, mantle, and crust, with a large proportion
coming from nuclear reactions in the mantle and crust. It is estimated that the
total heat content of the Earth, above an assumed average surface temperature
of 15◦C, is of the order of 12.6×1024

MJ, with the crust storing 5.4×1021

(Armstead, 1983). Based on the simple principle that the ‘deeper you go the
hotter it gets’, geothermal energy is continuously available anywhere on the
planet. The average geothermal gradient is about 2.5–3◦C per 100metres but this
figure varies considerably; it is greatest at the edges of the tectonic plates and
over hot spots–where much higher temperature gradients are present and where
electricity generation from geothermal energy has been developed since 1904.
Geothermal energy is traditionally divided into high, medium, and low temp-
erature resources. Typically, temperatures in excess of 150◦C can be used for
electricity generation and process applications. Medium temperature resources
in the range 40◦C to 150◦C form the basis for ‘direct use’ i.e. heating only,
applications such as space heating, absorption cooling, bathing (balneology),

36 Geothermal energy


Power production

Heating or

Direct use


(1500 m–3000 m)






~100 m


1000 m–2000 m

Figure 3.1 Cartoon showing the basic principles of extracting geothermal energy.

process industry, horticulture, and aquaculture. The low-temperature resources
obtainable at shallow depth, up to 100–300metres below ground surface,
are tapped with heat pumps to deliver heating, cooling, and hot water to

The principles of extracting geothermal energy, in applications ranging from
large scale electrical power plants to smallscale domestic heating, are illustrated
in Fig. 3.1.

Geothermal energy can be utilized over a temperature range from a few
degrees to several hundred degrees, even at super critical temperatures. The high
temperature resources, at depth, are typically ‘mined’ and are depleted over a
localized area by extracting the in situ groundwaters and, possibly, re-injecting
other hand, the low temperature resources can be designed to be truly renewable,
in the sense that the annual rate of extraction can be designed to be matched by
the rate of recovery.

Where warm water emerges naturally at the Earth’s surface, man has probably
generation using geothermal energy is now over 100 years old, with 24 countries
havingplantsonline. Directuseandheatpumpapplicationsarerecordedforover
70 countries.

It is not generally appreciated that geothermal energy currently ranks fourth in
biomass, hydropower and, very recently, wind (REN21, 2005).

Introduction 37

Geothermal energy has five key characteristics that can deliver important
benefits as an energy source supplying heat:

• Itprovidesaverylargeresourcebase, readilyavailableinoneformoranother
in all areas of the world.

• It is a reliable and continuous source of energy and can provide base load
electricity, heating, cooling, and hot water in the right circumstances. There
is no intermittent nature to the resource.

• The technology is maturing and geothermal energy can be economically
competitive as long as applications are designed correctly and are matched to
geological conditions.

• It can leverage the role of other forms of renewable or carbon-free electricity
by factors of three to four when used with heat pumps in heating and air
conditioning applications; i.e. one unit of electrical power can deliver four
units of carbon free heat.

• Itisalreadyacceptedinvarioussectorsofthemarketplacebothforinvestment
and operations, although the technologies are not yet understood by a wide

In the context of this book, two additional features of geothermal energy should
be highlighted.

• Iftheworldmovestowardsahydrogeneconomy, therewillbeaneedfornon-
fossil fuel sources to provide the energy for hydrogen production from water.
Given that geothermal energy is ideal for operation at a steady base load, but
cannot in itself be transported long distances, it can form an excellent basis
for hydrogen production—with the hydrogen itself then being transported to
point of use. This already forms part of the Icelandic proposals to become the
first hydrogen based economy in the world (Sigfusson, 2003).

• At the low-temperature end of the spectrum, the fortuitous role of geothermal
for the heating and cooling of buildings, presents one of the few currently
available options for eliminating the use of fossil fuels (and their resulting
carbon emissions) as the dominant energy source for providing thermal
comfort in buildings.

The reader who wishes to go beyond the discussion presented here is referred
to the online article by Dickson and Fanelli (see web resources below) which
is drawn from their UNESCO publication (Dickson and Fanelli, 2003), or

38 Geothermal energy

the excellent review paper in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
(Barbier, 1997).

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