What is Geothermal Heating?

According to some sources, our present decade is the last ten years we’ve got to stay ahead of the energy curve.  As such, when it comes to heating and cooling our homes, places of business, and every other building in between, alternative energy and the technology to support it is becoming a necessity to close the gap.

With this in mind,  I’d like to take a look at geothermal heating, a growing technology that is not commonplace in the average residential community, but may well be by 2020

Yet, what is it exactly?

Geothermal heat is literally heat energy as taken from the earth by means of heat pumps and a system of pipes.   The pipes tap into areas where geothermal heat is closest to the surface.  The energy extracted is then held in a reservoir for use in heating environments, providing energy to run appliances, and to heat water.  As off 2007, geothermal heat accounts for 0.3% of the world’s energy.  From Wikipedia:

Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly, but has historically been limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries. Recent technological advances have dramatically expanded the range and size of viable resources, especially for applications such as home heating, opening a potential for widespread exploitation. Geothermal wells release greenhouse gases trapped deep within the earth, but these emissions are much lower per energy unit than those of fossil fuels. As a result, geothermal power has the potential to help mitigate global warming if widely deployed in place of fossil fuels…

Like many forms of alternative energy, the key draw of geothermal heating systems is the massive projected energy savings for individual property owners, quoted between 30-70%. The limitations on this type of technology are significant, as it depends on geological compatibility. And as far as commercially available systems, you can watch this video from GeoComfort that explains a bit more about geothermal energy in a residential setting:

Again, the installation of a geothermal system is very dependent on how much space there is, and if there are accessible sources from which to most easily draw heat.  But, assuming upfront costs can be covered, geothermal energy is a long-term strategy for savings, and for closing the gap between energy requirements and dwindling fossil fuel resources.

To the issue of upfront costs, tax credits in the US have been made available for this technology, provided that a certain percentage of energy to the home is generated from it.  I wonder if the savings that technology like this represents means that the development of systems that service entire communities might be the next step in the evolution of this technology. In this, the burden of the cost would be on the public shoulders, not the private homeowner in much the same way as the current energy grid is today.  Perhaps this step might be applicable after the issue of geological proximity to geothermal heat sources is addressed.

Intuitively, using natural energy sources to serve entire regions seems to be a realistic goal.  And to me the technology on a home to home basis makes this a very viable area of expansion over the next ten years.

For more information, check out the rest of the Wikipedia article on geothermal energy as quoted in this post.   Also, check out this article from the Idaho Falls Department of Energy to see what kinds of processing plants are used to extract geothermal heat



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