New research has found that advanced geothermal systems are well suited to the storage of renewable power, and that they could do so at minimal cost compared with other technologies.
For thousands of years, people have used naturally occurring hot springs to cook food, heat their homes and even bathe in. This kind of energy is known as geothermal. Geothermal energy is a type of renewable energy taken from the Earth’s core. It comes from heat generated during the original formation of the planet and the radioactive decay of materials. This thermal energy is stored in rocks and fluids in the centre of the earth.
Geothermal systems. How are they used?
It has been used in some countries for thousands of years for cooking and in heating systems. The underground geothermal reservoirs of steam and heated water can be used for electricity generation and other heating and cooling applications.
One example of heating and cooling is where a geothermal heat pump is installed around 10 feet underground. These pipes are filled with water or an antifreeze solution. The water is pumped around the closed loop of pipes. These ground source heat pump systems help to cool buildings in summer and maintain warmth in summer. This occurs by absorbing the earth’s heat as the water circulates back into the building.
Geothermal water has been used to help grow plants in greenhouses, for district heating in homes and businesses. It can also be piped under roads to melt snow.
As renewable energy capacity in the form of solar and wind power increases, so does the need to store the electricity these sources generate. This is because power from renewables can fluctuate, as the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.
Storage technology such as batteries is often used to store excess energy when demand is low and to release it when demand is high, ensuring a steady supply to the grid. However, new research has found that advanced geothermal systems are well suited to the storage of renewable power, and that they could do so at minimal cost compared with other technologies.
Advantages and disadvantages of the geothermal systems
As a source of renewable energy, the main advantages of geothermal systems are environmental. It produces just one-sixth of the carbon dioxide emitted by a clean natural-gas power plant. Geothermal is also cheaper than conventional energy, with savings of as much as 80% compared with fossil fuels.
Unlike other renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, it is constantly available. Despite being inexpensive, sustainable and environmentally-friendly, geothermal is not without its drawbacks. Firstly, production is limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries. In addition, some locations may cool down after decades of use.
Although it is cheaper than fossil fuels once a plant has been built, the drilling and exploration of these sites is expensive. This is in part due to the amount of wear experienced by drills and other tools in such aggressive environments. Geothermal plants can release hydrogen sulphide, a gas that smells like rotten eggs. Finally, some geothermal fluids contain low levels of toxic materials which need to be disposed of.
Original source: World Economic Forum
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