Geothermal energy is incredibly powerful and offers a lot of potential for meeting energy demands, but we need to carefully assess its pros and cons.
The pros of geothermal energy are that it’s a renewable source of energy, it’s sustainable for our planet, and it’s highly dependable due to its consistency. However, the cons of geothermal energy are that it’s location dependant, expensive to install, and can lead to surface instability.
With the green revolution well on its way and sustainable living becoming a mainstream trend in modern society, we are seeing more and more geothermal power plants popping up around the globe. Geothermal energy is all about harnessing the heat that lies beneath the Earth’s surface to help power homes, communities, and even large-scale cities. This energy source has proven to be incredibly useful for some nations around the world, as some counties have transitioned to making geothermal power their primary energy source. With that being said, geothermal energy is not perfect, and to fully understand its potential, we need to take into account all of the variables attached to this energy source. To help you understand this further, we are going to take a closer look at the pros and cons of geothermal energy.
After decades of working as a geothermal energy consultant, I have had an extensive amount of experience establishing the efficacy of this energy source within various organizations. My experience has taught me that the best way to determine the efficiency and compatibility of geothermal energy is to make sure that the pros outweigh the cons for each given case.
Pros: Geothermal Energy
It goes without saying that the biggest threat to all of humanity is currently climate change - with unusual weather patterns occurring all over the globe and natural disasters becoming more destructive, the reality of this environmental catastrophe is beginning to sink and people all around the globe are ready to take action.
Given that a major contributor to the climate crisis comes from our current non-renewable energy sources such as coal and natural gas, scientists and national leaders around the world are looking for alternatives to remedy the situation - with geothermal energy being a promising prospect.
Geothermal energy has been utilized by humans for over two centuries but its true potential has only been realized in recent years. Ironically, some of our greatest and most powerful energy sources are those that are naturally occurring on our planet and do not need an excessive amount of processing or refinement, which is why so many governments are pushing to transition to geothermal energy.
Some countries such as Iceland have greatly capitalized on geothermal energy and have successfully established it as their primary source of energy. This is a perfect example of just how powerful geothermal energy can be if it is properly harvested and used within society, which makes it a key element of combating climate change and meeting the increasing demands of our energy needs. Let’s dive right into the pros of geothermal energy.
The biggest problem with our current primary energy resources is that they are not renewable, which means that they are not going to last forever and that at some point, we are going to have to transition to a different source of power.
This has made renewable energy as a whole a key focal point of environmental standards these days, which is why we are seeing so many people adopt renewable energies such as solar, wind, and geothermal energy. However, what we are finding is that even solar and wind energy are not quite as renewable as we once thought.
While these primary renewable energy sources do generate power in an environmentally friendly way, they are dependant on non-renewable materials in order to be created. Some of these materials are rare metals that can only be found in a handful of places on Earth, which means that some form of environmental destruction will need to take place in order to harvest all of the necessary components.
Geothermal energy on the other hand is praised for not needing as many rare metals and for having longevity - with power plants operating for as long as a century without major issues.
In addition, the great thing about geothermal energy is that there is an abundance of it constantly bubbling beneath the surface of the Earth. This makes geothermal energy a highly renewable source of energy that will be able to generate power for as long as the Earth’s core stays active.
Our current use of fossil fuels to manage our energy needs is taking a huge toll on the health of our planet. Non-renewable energy sources such as coal and natural gas, which power our cars and our homes are having a negative impact on the global fight against climate change.
Geothermal energy directly combats climate change - given that it leaves a very small carbon footprint. This makes it a highly sustainable alternative to fossil fuels that will greatly mitigate the number of greenhouse gases that enter our atmosphere.
What we are also finding is that geothermal energy is sustainable for ecosystems. Fossil fuels tend to pollute natural resources, which results in the loss of wildlife and habitats. Geothermal energy is regarded as being one of the most environmentally friendly solutions to avoiding the damaging effects that pollution has on our planet’s fragile ecosystems.
With that being said, geothermal energy is also a sustainable solution to combating air pollution. Given that there is not a large-scale plant that is pumping out harmful gases, it makes the air quality of the regions that these facilities are located in safer for neighboring communities.
The great thing about geothermal energy is that it is highly dependable. There is currently no shortage of geothermal activity beneath the surface of the Earth, which means that we know that we can count on geothermal energy for a very long time.
In addition, geothermal energy is not as reliant on exterior conditions in order to be harvested. This is contrary to other renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, which require that there be an adequate amount of sunshine and wind activity in order for them to adequately supply power.
This makes geothermal energy one of the most dependable energy sources that we have available to us.
Cons: Geothermal Energy
Given that we are seeing sustainable living become such a forefront of new governmental policies and individuals’ values, we are often blindsided by the drawbacks of the green revolution.
Sustainable living and clean energy are very important and they do pose a lot of promising potential for our future but they are not quite as perfect as they are often presented in the mainstream media and society as a whole.
Geothermal energy is not exempt from this, as this incredibly powerful energy source does have its fair share of cons to go along with all of its pros. To help you understand the full scope of geothermal energy, we are going to break down some of its disadvantages.
Once geothermal energy is established it is a highly effective source of power, which is sustainable and dependable. However, the problem with this is that geothermal energy is not available in all parts of the Earth.
In fact, there are only a handful of regions on the planet that have access to geothermal energy on a scale large enough to make it a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels - or even other renewable energy sources.
The only places on the planet that have this source of energy available to them are areas that have a significant amount of geothermal activity. At the moment, we are seeing promising geothermal activity in places such as the United States, Iceland, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Indonesia, the Philippines, Newzealand, and a select number of other nations.
This means that a lot of countries that could potentially benefit from harvesting geothermal energy, simply do not have access to it, which makes this renewable source of energy unrealistic for a large portion of the world.
One of the biggest cons associated with geothermal energy is the sheer cost to install the infrastructure to begin harvesting. You can expect a drilling operation for geothermal energy to cost as much as 4 million dollars to be installed.
These costs can be very intimidating for a lot of developing nations and even unrealistic for many people to afford. With that being said, geothermal energy can also be harvested to provide energy for small communities and even private households, which require a much smaller installation that costs significantly less.
However, even a small geothermal operation can cost tens of thousands of dollars, which is a major investment for a private individual to commit to. This can be especially problematic for poorer nations that have access to geothermal energy but an economy that does not enable its citizens to take advantage of this source of power.
These huge upfront costs can make geothermal energy an unpragmatic alternative to fossil fuels, which are much more affordable and established in society. Given that almost every nation has a system that is designed around fossil fuels, there is often a lot of investment costs that are needed to build the infrastructure needed for harvesting and generating geothermal energy.
In addition, it may also make much more sense for nations and private individuals to invest in alternative renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, as these forms of green energy do not require as many costs develop.
An increasing concern of geothermal energy is the potential surface instability that it can create. Regions that have set up geothermal plants around the globe have reported an increase in unusual earthquake activity, which ends up becoming a frequent occurrence within the area.
The reason for this is that geothermal energy requires that we breach the surface of the Earth and drill deep into the crust so that we can release gases and liquids to the top. While it is not common for geothermal drilling to create immediate surface instability, it does greatly increase the risk of this happening over time.
Earthquakes can be very destructive and have been the cause of entire cities and communities collapsing, as well as the loss of human life. Most developing nations that have established geothermal energy plants generally invest in the proper infrastructure that is necessary to mitigate or eliminate the damaging effects of surface instability.
However, poor planning or lack of funding for adequate infrastructure can prove to be dangerous for people and their communities. This is especially the case in developing nations that do not have the money to invest in infrastructure that is designed to withstand earthquake activity.
This means that nations that want to pursue geothermal energy not only need to pay for the initial costs of installing the drills and infrastructure for a geothermal operation but they also need to consider revamping their urban infrastructure as a whole in order to deal with the potential increase of earthquakes.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker