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How Safe Is Geothermal Energy?

by Staff

A solution to our dependence on fossil fuels presents itself in the form of geothermal energy. In certain parts of the United States, including California, Hawaii, and Alaska, pockets of geothermal energy deep underground are being harnessed for electricity. This comes in the form of superheated steam and water and hot rock.

But is geothermal energy truly safe? What are the risks involved when accessing this energy form? New York geothermal experts have the answers to that but, in the meantime, here’s our take on this particular venture that’s gaining popularity by the day.

What Do the Experts Say?

According to the multi-billion dollar corporations that back geothermal energy, this limitless, carbon-neutral energy source could cater to more than 10 percent of the US’ electricity needs in about 10 years.

Geothermal Energy: A Look Back in Time

In some parts of the ancient world, people access earth heat through hot springs. However, unlike the modern purpose of the energy form, the main functions of geothermal energy back then were cleansing, meditation, and giving warmth.

For thousands of years, people have taken advantage of nature’s geothermal power. However, we’ve only been able to do so successfully and close to its full potential for a couple of hundred years since the Idaho heating project was established in the late 1800s. A larger scale and even more successful project followed this one a decade later in Italy. It was when the first large-scale electricity generating plant was born.

From then on, geothermal energy plants became facilities that served an actual function. Today, they’re associated with activities, such as pool heating, laundry services, and agricultural use. These uses are classified under direct use as opposed to electrical use.

How Does Accessing Geothermal Energy Work?

One of the main forms of geothermal energy is high-temperature steam, which can be harnessed by a simple geothermal power plant drilled into the rock above the reservoir. The enormous pressure that lies underground pushes the steam up through the well and turns the turbine to generate electricity.

Steam reservoirs aren’t as abundant as hot rock and hot water reserves, so geothermal energy is mostly accessed through the binary-cycle energy plant. With this system, hot water from the well is dispersed through a heat exchanger.

It is there where part of its heat is transferred to a binary or secondary liquid with a boiling point several degrees below its own. The binary liquid eventually evaporates and turns into the steam that powers the turbines.

Another important thing to remember when it comes to geothermal energy is that higher temperatures can only be accessed deep underground. So, it follows that the hotter and more powerful the energy you require, the deeper you have to drill. Of course, this can come with its own set of consequences.

The Side Effects of Deep Drilling

Harnessing the power of geothermal energy doesn’t come without its downsides. After all, the only way one can tap into those reservoirs is by drilling deep beneath the earth. This could potentially lead to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods over time.

Drilling deep into the ground displaces a considerable volume of materials and releases pressure that causes the layers of ground sitting above the reservoir to shift and fall away. What makes it worse is that pockets of geothermal energy are usually found in locations with frequent seismic activity.

In particular, fault lines are brimming with these pockets of energy, which are especially sensitive around these areas and can easily trigger quakes. In the early days of geothermal energy technology, a plant in Switzerland allegedly set off a sequence of tremors around a fault line responsible for a massive earthquake back in the fourteenth century.

Complaints of small tremors also came from a small community located near a plant in Germany. Then, there’s the geothermal plant in California called “The Geysers,” which people say is responsible for collecting small quakes that often take place around the facility.

While these aren’t mega-quakes by any means and go mostly unnoticed by the public, the fact that they do occur can still instill fear. What if it’s only about time until the “big one” comes? That said, if geothermal energy truly is the alternative energy source of the future, it has to find a way to disassociate with natural disasters pronto.

So, Is Geothermal Energy Truly Safe?

When accessed the proper way, yes, geothermal energy is mostly safe. However, like other industrial projects, it also comes with its own share of risks. Though the fewer the risks become when you pick the correct location.

When you abide by regulations and practices set by the government regarding the harnessing of geothermal energy, you should be able to access it with minimal risk. But remember, based on current research governing this venture, this alternative energy source is yet to be at a place where it can be deemed completely safe.

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay 

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