How does Geothermal Energy Work

We should be doing everything possible to develop
geothermal energy technologies has an alternate
energy source. This is a largely untapped area of
tremendous alternative energy potential, as it simply
taps the energy being naturally produced by the Earth
herself. Vast amounts of power are present below the
surface of the earth; all we need do is tap into it and
harness it.
What is Geothermal Energy ?
Geothermal heat originates from Earth being made
from the dust and gas in space over 4 billion years ago. At earth’s core, which is 4,000 miles deep the
temperatures may reach over 9,000 degrees F.
The heat from the earth’s core flows outward and it conducts to the surrounding layer of rock around
the earth (mantle). When temperature and pressure become high enough, some this rock melts to
becoming molten magma. Then, because it is less dense than the surrounding rock, the molten rock
rises up toward the earth’s crust, carrying the heat from the core of the earth.
When this hot magma reaches the surface, it can create volcanoes. But most of the time it remains
below earth’s crust, heating nearby rock and water that has seeped deep into the earth. This can be
sometimes as hot as 700 degrees F. Some of this hot geothermal water travels back up to the surface
through cracks in the rock and produces hot springs or geysers, but most of it stays deep underground,
trapped in cracks and porous rock. This natural collection of hot water is called a geothermal reservoir.
How Can We Use Geothermal Energy ?
In the past the Romans, used geothermal water in their bath houses and also to treat eye and skin
disease. In North America the Native Americans used hot springs water for cooking and medicine, and
for centuries the Maoris of New Zealand have used geothermal heat for cooking.
Today, we can drill wells deep into the geothermal reservoirs and bring the hot water to the earth’s
surface. Then this hot water/steam can be used to generate electricity in geothermal power plants or for
energy saving non-electrical purposes, which would include using the hot water to heat house, schools,
and hospitals.
How Can We Generate Electricity from Geothermal Energy ?
In geothermal power plants steam or hot water which comes from the geothermal reservoirs is used to
drive turbine generators and produces electricity. The used geothermal water is then returned down an
injection well into the reservoir to be reheated, to maintain pressure, and to sustain the reservoir.
There are 3 kinds of geothermal energy power plants. Each one is used depending on the temperature
and pressure of a geothermal reservoir available.
1. A “dry’” steam reservoir produces steam but very little water. The steam is piped directly into a steam
power plant to drive the turbine generator. The largest dry steam field in the world is about 100 miles
north of San Francisco in California. Production of electricity started here back in the 1960’s. This has
become the most successful geothermal energy project today.
2. A geothermal water reservoir that produces mostly hot water is called a “hot water reservoir” and is
used in a “flash” power plant. Water with a temperature of 300 to 700 degrees F is fed up to the surface
through a well where, upon being released from the pressure of the deep reservoir, some of the water
flashes into steam in a ‘separator.’ The steam then powers the turbines.
3. A reservoir with temperatures ranging between 250 to 360 degrees F is not hot enough to produce
steam but can still be used to produce electricity in a “binary” power plant. In a binary system the
geothermal water is passed through a heat exchanger, where its heat is transferred into a second
(binary) liquid, such as isopentane, that boils at a lower temperature than water. When heated, the
binary liquid flashes to vapor, which, like steam, expands across and spins the turbine blades. The vapor
is then condensed to a liquid and is reused repeatedly. In this process the chemical is kept in a closed
loop cycle, so there are no emissions to the air.
What Are Some of the Advantages of Using Geothermal Energy ?
Firstly, it’s Clean. Geothermal power plants, like wind and solar power plants, do not burn any fossil
fuels to manufacture steam to turn the turbines. The electricity is generated with the geothermal energy
which helps us conserve nonrenewable fossil fuels, and reduce emissions that harm our atmosphere.
Its reliable. Geothermal power plants are designed to run 24 hours a day, all year. A geothermal power
plant sits right on top of its fuel source. It is not dependent to fuel deliveries, so can produce energy
without any interruption in service.
How Much Geothermal Energy is Available ?
Thousands more megawatts of power than are currently being produced could be developed from
already identified Geothermal resources. With the constant improvement in technology, much more
power will become available in the future. As drilling technology improves, allowing us to drill much
deeper, geothermal energy from hot dry rock could be available anywhere. When this happens we will
be able to tap the potential of the enormous heat resources at the earth’s crust.