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Geothermal Energy by Ameen Topa

Geothermal Energy by Ameen Topa

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GEOTHERMAL ENERGY IS THE BEST RENEWABLE ENERGY Table of Contents Introduction ................................ ................................ ................................ ..........................

1 Geothermal Power Plants Are Unique in Several Aspects ................................ ..................... 4 Geothermal Energy Is a Reliable Source of Energy ................................ ............................... 7 Geothermal Energy Has Negative Impacts on the Environment ................................ ............. 9 Geothermal Energy Has an Overall Positive Impact ................................ ............................ 11 Protecting the Environment is Obligatory................................ ................................ ............ 13 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ .......................... 15 Reference................................ ................................ ................................ ............................ 16



Energy is the essence of all living systems. Human beings require energy in the form of food. Plants require energy in the form of sunlight to grow. Vehicles need energy in the form of gasoline to run. Sailboats need energy from the wind to move across the water. Moreover, modern societies and technological development require energy to survive. Hence, energy, whether in the form of heat, mechanical, electrical or chemical, is needed for all living and non-living activity on this planet. Energy is defined as the capacity to do works (Coley, 2008, p. 10). Since the industrial evolution, the developed world has been powered by fossil energy. And new levels of prosperity and human welfare were created. However, there has been a price, which we only relatively recently begun to fully realise. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels have increased its concentration in our atmosphere to levels not seen for many millions of years. This resulted in a warming world. Many regions have been undergoing climate changes. Sea levels have risen by about 20 cm. Ice caps from many mountain peaks are disappearing. The Arctic sea ice has thinned by up to 40% in the recent decades. The problem which we are facing is clear, and every one of us must contribute in the solution. We must reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide from our activities as much as possible. Moreover, we must change our essential resource of energy and the way we use it. There is a broad range of choices in the alternative sources of energy such as solar energy, nuclear energy, and coal. Moreover, there are several newcomers as science and technology develop. These include wind energy, hydro power, and bioenergy. However, each of these alternative sources of energy has its respective pros and cons, which opens the door



of arguments and debates on which one is the most suitable alternative, and on which one we should focus our research and development. One of the promising alternative sources of energy is the geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is defined as the heat energy obtained from geological sources carried by hot water, steam, or magma (Fanchi, 2004, p. 117). This alternative greatly reduces the emissions of air pollutants and it is effectively reliable since it does not depend on weather or time. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) meeting on the renewable energy sources, which was held in 2008, concluded the following A great potential for an extensive increase in worldwide geothermal utilisation has been proven. This is a reliable energy source which serves both direct use applications and electricity generation. Geothermal energy is independent of weather conditions and has an inherent storage capability which makes it especially suitable for supplying base load power in an economical way, and can thus serve as a partner with energy sources which are only available intermittently (Fridleifsson, Bertani, Huenges, Lund, Ragnarsson, and Rybach, p. 33). Despite the fact the geothermal energy has great potential, some countries and governments disagree with the idea of implementing geothermal power generation. Their main argument is the limited geothermal impact of the geothermal energy projects comparatively to other resources. From an Islamic perspective, all the creatures in the earth were made subservient to humankind. Therefore, they have the capability as well as the permission from the creator to utilize these creatures for his prosperity and welfare. However, there are some limitations. In the other hand, he has to protect and preserve the nature and the environment. And as a part of this, he must not harm the earth and environment while searching and obtaining energy.



The writer strongly believes that geothermal energy is the most suitable alternative source of energy. Geothermal energy is one of the cleanest forms of energy and its utilization significantly reduces the emission of carbon dioxide and other forms of air pollutants. And this paper is an attempt to prove that the benefits of this alternative source of energy outweigh its disadvantages.

GEOTHERMAL ENERGY IS THE BEST RENEWABLE ENERGY Geothermal Power Plants Are Unique in Several Aspects


Geothermal power plants are very unique as they have some features that other power plants do not. One of these important features is that geothermal power plants occupy little land area comparatively to the land utilised for other extractive sources such nuclear, coal, gas, and oil. Therefore, the impact on the nature is comparatively less because the land area to be utilized is less. For an instance, geothermal power plants which have the capacity to produce up to 100 MW of electricity occupy only a hectare or so of land area (Boyle, 2004, p. 375). The geothermal power plants are utilized primarily to generate electricity. However, there are some countries which are utilizing the geothermal resources for other purposes such as providing direct heat source. Some of these countries are Iceland, Italy, New Zealand, and Japan (Boyle, 2004, p. 363). It would be worth mentioning that geothermal power plants are the only power plants which have the capability of providing direct use of heat and thermal energy for domestic and industrial applications. For example, the geothermal fluids can be used as a direct source of heat for space and water heating in houses. Also, geothermal power plants can provide direct heat use for industrial purposes such as drying applications in food, textile and chemical industries. In addition, they can supply direct heat use in agricultural applications for purposes such as heating the soil and space of glasshouses (Khan, 2006, p. 233). There is a new technology in the geothermal energy field called ground-coupled heatpump technology. The introduction of this new technology has rapidly increased the use of geothermal resources as direct sources of heat. The heat pumps in this technology use the geothermal reservoirs as the heat source during winter for heating and as the heat sink in summer for cooling. The energy efficiency of ground-couple heat-pump technology is 50%



better than the common electric- resistance heating. Furthermore, the utilization of this technology can reduce power plants emissions up to 72% compared with standard airconditioners and the common electric-resistance heat pumps (Letcher, 2008, p. 220). Another interesting unique attribute of geothermal power plants is their capability of re-injecting its by-products back where in came from. In other words, they can operate in a closed system. Geothermal power plants which are working in completely closed systems are called binary power plants. In this type of power plants, the geothermal fluid is confined within a closed system which has the capability of re-injecting the whole amount of the fluid into the earth where it came from. Thus, these systems are greatly environmentally friendly as they have almost no pollutants (Khan, 2006, p. 246). Therefore, this unique attribute make geothermal power generation a very attractive alternative because of the global warming problem that we are facing these days. According to Boyle (2004), ³In continuing search to find cost-effective forms of energy that neither contribute to global warming nor threaten national security, geothermal energy has become a significant player´ (p. 324). In some geothermal power plants, the amount steam released exceeds is more that the amount of water injected into the system. Therefore, these geothermal power plants need to supply more water to the system. However, some of these sites are using wastewater as additional replenishing of water supplies to their systems. In other words, the wastewater is used to refill the geothermal wells. Thus, geothermal power plants can improve the cycle of water in the neighbouring areas whilst producing energy. Some cities such as Santa Rosa, California, is using this idea and delivering its used water to its geothermal power plant to refill the geothermal wells. As a result, the power plant is supplying electricity to the city whilst helping in the city in discarding its used water (Cruden, 2005, p. 71).



To sum up, geothermal power plants have the above mentioned four unique features. They occupy little land area, have the capability of supplying direct heat use, they are environmentally benign and they can facilitate the disposal of waste water. Therefore, geothermal power generation is an excellent alternative source of energy.

GEOTHERMAL ENERGY IS THE BEST RENEWABLE ENERGY Geothermal Energy Is a Reliable Source of Energy


Geothermal energy primarily is generated from the radioactive decay of some isotopes within the earth such as Uranium-238 and Potassium-40. Therefore, geothermal sources are independent of weather or time and capable of producing energy continuously throughout the year. This unique feature distinguishes geothermal resources from many other resources such as solar energy and wind energy which are dependent on time and weather respectively. Thus, geothermal power generation are capable of producing greater quantities of energy comparatively for a given installed capacity. This high availability makes the geothermal energy resources one of the most important alternative energy resources on an international scale (Coley, 2008, p. 515; Boyle, 2004, p. 375). Moreover, the temperatures underground are steady and don¶t change with weather or season. For an instance, if the temperature of some geothermal reservoir is 1000 C o, then this temperature will remain constant regardless of time, season, weather and climate. In other words, geothermal resources can supply consistent amount of energy 24 hours every day. Since the energy required to produce electricity is always available, the necessity of battery storage facilities is eliminated which reduces the operating cost of geothermal power plants (Cruden, 2005, p. 71). Geothermal energy resources have great and promising potential. A huge quantity of energy exists underground which are sufficient to supply our needs for 3,500,000 years. Also, the crust of the earth will remain hot for more than millions of years more. Th eoretical estimation shows that the available geothermal energy is one hundred thousand times the yearly current demand of energy. Of course, the extraction of such huge amount of energy would not be possible, but these figures show that the worldwide geothermal power generation is limited and restricted to today¶s technology. The power generation capacity of



the currently available geothermal resources has been estimated to be between 35,000 and 73,000 MW of electricity using today¶s technology (Coley, 2008, p. 525; Letcher, 2008, p. 216; Cruden, 2005, p. 78; Khan, 2006, p. 232). The geothermal exploration of more than 50 years has shown that systems with highquality of energy exist only in certain areas. That is the energy from the natural geothermal resources is in available low grade heat. However, researchers and scientists are developing new technologies to improve the efficiency of natural geothermal systems. Assuming that they succeeded, the number of the geothermal systems that can be utilized for power generation would greatly increase (Letcher, 2008, p. 222). In brief, the above two reason are enough to show that geothermal resources are indeed reliable resourced. The first reason is its independence of time and weather and the second one is the huge potential that is available for us to exploit. In addition, the development of technology might increase the worldwide utilization of geothermal resources dramatically.

GEOTHERMAL ENERGY IS THE BEST RENEWABLE ENERGY Geothermal Energy Has Negative Impacts on the Environment


Unfortunately, some countries and governments find that idea geothermal energy generation hard to accept. Their strongest argument is for putting more emphasis on the geothermal energy generation is the limited environmental impact compared to other energy resources. In order to build a geothermal site, roads and utility lines must be build which disturb some fragile ecosystems. Also, deep wells must be frequently drilled which creates noise pollution as well as disturbs the natural flow of the underground water. If these actions were not managed properly, they can have a negative impact on the surrounding habitat (Cruden, 2005, pp. 72-73; Boyle, 2004, p. 373). Moreover, there are some long-terms environmental impacts of the geothermal energy generation. One of them is the ground subsidence which is known as the shift of the earth surface downward with respect to a reference such as sea level. This phenomenon occurs more often in the geothermal systems where the liquid is dominant. In these systems, the high pressure of the reservoir might reduce significantly for an instance due to the inappropriate reinjection of the geothermal fluid or the steam. In other words, the geothermal fluid or steam that comes out from underground are not entirely re-injected back. As a result, the ground subsidence is induced in which happens generally in the scale of millimetre to centimetre in the geothermal power plants. However, an extreme subsidence of 3 metres has happened in Wairakei power plant in New Zealand. Declines in reservoirs pressure also have adverse effects on natural manifestation such as hot springs and geysers (Boyle, 2004, p. 373). As a conclusion, those who refuse to put more emphasis on geothermal power generation believe that geothermal power generation can harm the environment, firstly by damaging the fragile ecosystems while building and installing the geothermal power plants, and secondly by the long utilisation of the geothermal resources which induce ground



subsidence. Therefore, geothermal energy is not a suitable alternative resource of energy because of its negative environmental impact especially nowadays because of the problem of global warming.

GEOTHERMAL ENERGY IS THE BEST RENEWABLE ENERGY Geothermal Energy Has an Overall Positive Impact


Even though geothermal power plants have these negative impacts on the environment, they have a net positive impact on the environment compared to other power plants because their pollution effects are much smaller. Coley (2008) believes, ³Geothermal power would seem to be a largely environmentally benign approach to energy production´ (p. 525). Geothermal energy nowadays is one of the most environmentally-friendly forms of energy. The main reason of this is the fact that geothermal energy sources are confined under the surface of the earth, and energy conversion equipment on the surface is comparatively compact which result in a small overall land area of the entire system. For an instance, in producing the same amount of electricity, the carbon dioxide emission from geothermal power plants is greatly less compared to the emission of the cleanest fossil units. The use of geothermal energy reduced the problems of acid rains because of its extremely low sulphur emissions. Also, geothermal drilling is much safer than oil or gas drilling because of the absence of the risk of fire and thus the likelihood of environmental damage due to drilling accidents is very low. Moreover, utilizing the water in the geothermal power production sites does not deplete the water supply from the surrounding ecosystems as long as it is injected back into the earth. Furthermore, the land use for geothermal power plants is many times less comparatively with other power plants. In addition, geothermal power plants coexist with agricultural land uses such as grazing and crop production unlike most other power plants (Boyle, 2004, p. 375; Letcher, 2008, p. 220; Cruden, 2005, p. 71). It would be worth mentioning, that once the drilling and installation of geothermal power plants are complete, there almost no noise neither emissions. So, the major environmental impact of the geothermal power plants is at the setting up and preparation stage. Hence, instead of building more geothermal power plants, re-drilling existing sites which were thought to be used to capacity and closed now reduces the environmental impact



dramatically. This is possible via new advanced technologies that enable deeper penetration of earth¶s crust. As for the problem of ground subsidence, scientists have found a method to solve it recently. To eliminate the cause of this problem, the geothermal steam or fluid must be reinjected into the earth. Thus, they are developing advanced geothermal systems which have the capability of recycling the steam back to the earth¶s crust. So, the high pressure of the reservoir will be maintained in these systems. Thus, the environmental effect of ground subsidence is eliminated (Boyle, 2004, p. 375; Cruden, 2005, p. 76; Fanchi, 2004, p. 120). Also, scientists are developing better drilling technology and they are hoping to discover a safe method to drill into the crust of the earth in the ocean without disturbing the natural cycles of water. If this investigation is successful, then there will be no need for developing geothermal power plants on lands and thus avoiding the negative environmental impact of building and developing such sites. Also, geothermal power generation will be able to provide our need of electricity as long as the interior of the earth remains hot, which will be for hundreds of millions of years more (Cruden, 2005, pp. 77-78).

GEOTHERMAL ENERGY IS THE BEST RENEWABLE ENERGY Protecting the Environment is Obligatory


In Islamic teachings, it is compulsory of every Muslim to protect the elements which formulate the environment namely, animals, plants, land, water, and air. Islam forbids killing animals except for food and it prohibits torturing them as well. Islam requests Muslims to treat animals well. Even in the case of slaughtering animals, one must sharpen the blade so that the animal will endure less pain. Furthermore, one must not sharpen the blade in front of the sight of the animals (missionislam.com). It is prohibited in Islam to cut or destroy plants or trees without justification. If fact, Muslims are ordered to protect and increase the number of plants and promises great reward for that. The prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said that he who cuts a lote-tree without justification, God will send him to Hellfire. This can be understood in terms of preserving the natural resources of earth as well as protecting balance of the environment (missionislam.com). There are many Hadiths which demonstrates the concept of protecting the land from pollutants. These Hadiths encourage Muslims to be clean. It is stated in one Hadith that God likes generosity, goodness, and cleanliness and other few things. At the end of the Hadith, the prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, asked Muslims to clean their yards. This Hadith can be understood as that the cleanliness is a good and generous thing towards the environment. (missionislam.com) The tradition of the prophet, peace be upon him, stresses on the correct utilization of water and not wasting it. Also, the concept of protecting the water from pollutants is also mentioned in his tradition. In one Hadith, the prophet peace be upon him forbids taking bathe in still water. That is because still water will get dirty and polluted unlike running water (missionislam.com).



The prophet, peace be upon him, discouraged activities which causes offensive and unpleasant odors or smells in many Hadiths. Thus, the concept of protecting the air can be realized from these Hadiths. Therefore, Muslims must not disturb the air by any means and must protect it from pollutants (missionislam.com). To sum up, protecting the environment is obligatory in Islam. Therefore, we as individuals or groups must preserve the nature all the times. Also, we must think carefully before doing anything of its consequence on the environment, whether it is a small thing like reducing the usage of electricity, or a big decision such as selecting the right type of energy generation.



From the arguments mentioned above in this paper, it is clear and obvious that geothermal energy is the most suitable renewable energy resource which we should utilize in order to lessen or even eliminate the usage of the non-renewable fossil fuels. Geothermal power plants are very attractive as they possess unique features such as the requirement of little land area, having very low emissions, and the capability of providing direct heat use. Furthermore, geothermal resources are reliable and independent of time and weather as they can be produce power 24 hours a day, throughout the year. Moreover, they have a huge great potential as they can provide the world with abundant amounts of energy and will exist for a very long-lasting lifetime. Geothermal power generation might have some side effects on the environment such as the disturbance of some fragile ecosystems and the creation of ground subsidence phenomenon. However, these side effects are due technical errors and the usage of old technologies and techniques. Nowadays, there are some advanced new geothermal systems which are greatly environmentally friendly as they have zero emissions. Moreover, the positive impacts of the geothermal power generation on the environment outweigh the negative ones which results in a net positive impact. We are facing great environmental problems nowadays. The reason of this was the emission of the carbon dioxide and other air pollutants from the human activities during the past generation. If we continue in the same manner, the problem will escalates as time passes by. If we do not take care of the environment, that day might come when the earth will not be suitable for living anymore, and then the next generations will ask themselves ³What our ancestors were thinking? Why they didn¶t protect the environment?´



Boyle, G. (2004). Renewable energy: Power for a sustainable future. New York, USA: Oxford University Press. Coley, D. (2008).Energy and climate change. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Cruden, G. (2005). Energy Alternatives. New York, USA: Thomson Gale. Fanchi, J. R. (2004). Energy: Technology and directions for the future. Burlington, USA: Elsevier Academic Press. Fridleifsson, I.B., Bertani, R., Huenges, E., Lund, J. W., Ragnarsson, A., &Rybach, L. (2008).The possible role and contribution of geothermal energy to the mitigation of climate change. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from http://www.iea-

gia.org/documents/FridleifssonetalIPCCGeothermalpaper2008FinalRybach20May08_ 000.pdf Khan, B. H. (2006).Non-conventional energy resources.New Delhi, India: Tata McGraw Hill Publishing Company Limited. Letcher, T. M. (2008).Future energy: Improved, sustainable, and clean options for our planet. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Elsevier Ltd. Mustafa Abu-Sway (2002). Towards an Islamic Jurisprudence of the Environment.Retrieved June 5, 2010, from http://www.missionislam.com/science/enviroment.html.

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