The Benefits of Geothermal Energy
Is Geothermal Energy Right for You?
Geothermal energy is a largely untapped resource of sustainable and renewable energy. As more homeowners look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, switching your home to a renewable energy source is an easy place to start.
With several options for renewable energy, how do you know if geothermal energy is the right choice for you? There are pros and cons to geothermal which every homeowner should be aware of. Here’s what you need to know about installing and using geothermal energy.
What is Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal energy is a type of renewable energy harvested from the core of the earth. The energy comes from heat generated during the formation of the planet and the subsequent radioactive decay of materials. This energy is stored in rocks and fluids such as magma in the center of the earth.
Geothermal reservoirs with steam and hot water have been used for thousands of years. Today, we can harness the power of geothermal energy by drilling into the ground for up to a mile, installing a pump, filling the pipes with water, and pumping it through a closed system. The water absorbs the earth’s heat and helps cool and heat businesses and homes.
Geothermal energy is one of the best sources of renewable energy, outperforming conventional oil and gas energy in terms of carbon footprint and sustainability. It is not a largely tapped resource of energy, but it is used across the world. 25% of the energy produced in Iceland comes from 5 geothermal power plants and the largest geothermal development in the world is outside of San Francisco California.
Should You Install Geothermal Heating & Cooling?
The Pros of Geothermal Energy
1. Geothermal energy is better for the environment
Many of us are looking for ways to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, and changing the energy source for our home or business is a great way to go green. Geothermal energy is extracted from the earth. It does not burn fossil fuels and produces little emissions.
2. Geothermal is highly efficient
Geothermal pumps use between 25 – 50% less electricity than convention energy systems like gas and oil to heat or cool your home. The systems can be expanded or contracted to fit an appropriate space size, and require less hardware than traditional energy systems. Additionally, no fuel is needed to run these systems since they power themselves. A geothermal system offers up to a 400% efficiency rate over other systems, creating up to 4 units of energy for every 1 unit produced by a conventional power plant.
3. Geothermal Can Save You Money
The efficiency of geothermal heating and cooling translates into big savings for homeowners! Geothermal energy can be a boost to your budget, saving up thousands of dollars on your energy use every year. You’re no longer reliant on the municipal power grid for energy, you don’t need to worry about fluctuating rate changes, and you’re always in control of the power coming into your home. Most homeowners recoup the cost of their initial investment in 2 – 10 years.
4. Geothermal is Renewable and Reliable
Geothermal energy is not a limited resource like fossil fuels or coal. It’s not dependent on the weather like wind and solar energy, and is available all year round. Because geothermal energy is so reliable, it frees you from depending on external circumstances to produce energy. If you live in an area where the weather shifts often and is inconsistent, geothermal energy can be a great option over solar or wind energy. The hot reservoirs within the earth which we draw the energy from are naturally replenished.
5. Geothermal is Low Maintenance
Geothermal energy systems have a longer lifespan than any of their conventional counterparts like oil and gas. Each system contains only a few moving parts, is completely enclosed, and is placed underground on your land. Because it’s not out in the open, the system is not subject to wear and tear from inclement weather, such as rain, snow, hail, ice, or storms. Additionally, being underground means geothermal systems are quieter than traditional heating and cooling units.
The pipes of your geothermal energy system can last between 25 and 50 years, while the pumps typically last around 20 years. Compare this to typical HVAC systems that require regular maintenance and only last 10 – 15 years.
6. Geothermal is Safe
Geothermal systems draw energy from reservoirs in the earth. There is no combustion and no burning with geothermal, so no carbon monoxide is produced. This reduces the chances of, and can elevate fears over carbon monoxide poisoning.
7. Improved Indoor Air Quality
Geothermal systems offer a variety of benefits that other energy systems do not. Geothermal systems are able to dehumidify the air in your home, as well as act as an air purifier. Since these systems also do not recycle air, the air quality in your home can improve greatly. This is especially beneficial for those with respiratory problems, like asthma.
8. Federal Tax Benefits
Homeowners in the US can recoup some of the cost of investment from their geothermal energy system on their federal taxes, offsetting the large installation cost. But there is a time limit on this! You can claim up to 26% of the cost of installation on your geothermal system in 2022 and up to 22% in 2023. But the current tax benefits expire on December 31, 2023, so you won’t be able to claim any costs for installing a geothermal system in 2024 and beyond. This may change in the future as the US continues to incentivize homeowners to turn to sustainable sources of energy.
The Drawbacks & Unknowns of Geothermal
Geothermal energy systems are a great choice for many homeowners and businesses. But they’re not right for everyone, and there are some limitations to their use.
1. Possible Greenhouse Emissions
Although geothermal energy is a much more sustainable way of harvesting energy than oil and gas, it doesn’t come without an impact on the environment. Extracting geothermal energy from the ground can lead to emissions of greenhouse gases such as hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia. However, the emissions caused by geothermal extraction are a fraction of the level produced by fossil fuels – the carbon dioxide emissions from a geothermal power plant are 1/6 that of a gas-power plant and even less so for smaller home systems.
2. Geothermal is Location Specific
Geothermal energy is location specific, near tectonic plate boundaries. This means that geothermal energy is not currently available to everyone, but those who do live near tectonic plate boundaries are able to easily access it. Business run by geothermal energy or harvesting geothermal energy must be placed where it is readily accessible. However, in places like Iceland which has a lot of volcanic activity, geothermal energy is easy to access.
3. Possible Depletion of Geothermal Sources
While geothermal energy is considered a sustainable and renewable energy source, we still don’t know the full breadth of the geothermal energy available to us, or if there is a limit on the supply. This leads to the possibility that locations where geothermal energy is most popular may cool down over time and become challenging to extract energy out of.
Currently, the only way we know for certain we can source geothermal energy without depleting anything is to do so from magma, the hot liquid that exits within the earth’s crust. Technology that is able to do this well is still in production, but magma exits everywhere in world under the earth’s crust so it could increase the availability of geothermal energy.
4. High Initial Investment Cost
Installing a geothermal energy system is an investment and may be cost-prohibitive for some homeowners. There is a large amount of drilling, construction, and labor that goes into creating these systems, and the specialization of the work drives up the cost. However, households and businesses with geothermal energy are typically able to earn back the initial investment through savings within 2 to 10 years.
5. Land is Needed
Geothermal energy systems are installed outside a house or business, so having enough land to hold the system is necessary. This can present a challenge to people living or working within cities, where there is not enough room on the land to drill down and install a system. However, new types of geothermal systems are being developed that take up less space, so this is a temporary restriction. Geothermal energy is an area of interest in the scientific and technological communities as we look to create more sustainable ways to power our world.
Types of Geothermal Systems
There are two types of geothermal systems available to install currently, each with their own subsystems. Which system works best for you is dependent on a variety of factors, including soil conditions, available land, climate, and local installation costs. The main difference between the systems is the pipe installation.
Closed Loop System, which can be either Pond, Vertical, or Horizontal.
Open Loop Geothermal System, which can be either Pond, or Standing well
Which system works best for you depends on a few things. The composition of the soil and the rocks in the land affect heat transfer rates and the type of system you can install. The presence of ground or surface water influences the type of loop system. The amount of land available, the layout of the land, the landscaping, and the placement of existing underground systems like sprinkler systems also affect the type of geothermal system you can install.
Geothermal heating and cooling systems are a great option for homeowners looking to reduce their carbon footprint and bring a sustainable source of energy into their lives. While geothermal won’t work for everyone depending on your location and the size of your property, it can save you thousands of dollars and eliminate your dependency on municipal power sources.
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