Although you may have heard about geothermal energy in the past, it is still far from popular as an energy solution. At the end of the last century, energy and resources were being put into understanding the potential of geothermal energy, but during the first ten years of this century, the enthusiasm for geothermal energy stalled. As of 2011, geothermic energy production increased, and recent government legislation and a focus on green energy may help that trend to continue. With geothermal energy becoming available, what does the consumer need to know about its production and use?
There are two ways that geothermal energy is currently being used. Power plants harness geothermal energy into electricity by using steam to turn a turbine, then cools the steam into water and injects it back into the earth's surface. These power plants charge between $0.03 and $0.05 per kWh, which is significantly less than other types of renewable and non-renewable energy. However, the lack of current infrastructure and the removal of tax incentives may make the startup of more plants difficult.
Geothermal energy is also used for direct heating and cooling of commercial buildings and residences. A liquid, usually water, is pumped through pipes in the building and then through a loop buried in the ground. During the summer, the water is cooled while it is underground, making the building cooler, and during the winter the water is heated when it passes through the earth. These systems can help a building maintain a temperature between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, and may need to be supplemented with other methods of heating to reach higher temperatures, but will still reduce the overall cost of heating.
How to Access Geothermal Energy
The easiest way for individuals to use geothermal energy is to install a direct heat pump into their home or business. These systems are ideal for new construction and houses in rural areas, where there is plenty of room to lay the pipes underground and access to other methods of heating is limited. If you have an older building or little real estate, you should not discount geothermal energy as an option, though, because installation techniques are continually improving.
Installing a geothermal heat pump is expensive compared to traditional HVAC heating methods, at $5,000-$9,000 per ton of heating capacity. However, until 2016, the U.S. government is offering tax incentives that will reimburse home and business owners between 30% of the installation cost of a geothermic heating and cooling system. This should make most systems competitive with traditional systems, and you would save the remaining cost of the system in heating and cooling costs after 5 years.
Installing a geothermal heat pump from a company like Greensleeves Energy Solutions is a highly technical project and should be done by a certified company. First, they will evaluate your property to make sure you have the required land composition to install a system. Then, they will drill holes on your property to install special tubing. The drilling can be disruptive to your landscape and, in some cases, may take multiple days. After the tubing is installed, the system can be connected to your current heating and cooling system in your building, or a new system of radiant heating can be installed.
If you are unable to install a geothermic heat pump on your property, you can still support the use of geothermic energy. You should educate yourself about the use and production of geothermic energy in your state, as well as the policies that currently encourage or discourage the building of more geothermic plants. Then, write to your representative, stating your support for geothermic electricity.