Geothermal Energy Disadvantages – The Truth Doesn't Hurt

When one considers geothermal energy disadvantages, you need to keep an open mind and look closely at what is being said. It is our intention to dispute some of the more commonly stated disadvantages and yet, at the same time, to focus on the real ones.

So here goes...

The Myths About Geothermal Energy Disadvantages

There are three disadvantage areas that are commonly written about on the internet, on other alternative energy sites, with which we take issue – these are discussed below.

Geothermal energy is not transportable

Quite often you will find sites stating that you can't transport it in the same way that you can put, say coal, on a rail wagon and ferry it off to a chosen destination. So what? Other forms of renewable energy are not portable either you use them “in situ” or you connect them to a national electricity grid and then they are transportable. Geothermal energy is no different. Sure there may be only specific areas where you can drill down and tap into the heat energy but once you have done that the resulting electrical energy can be transported.

Geothermal energy is not widespread

We don't think this is an accurate assertion. It needs some qualification. In fact the earth's mantle, that layer below the earth's crust, is often referred to as the geothermal gradient. This is a reference to the temperature gradient ranging from extremely hot where the mantle is closest to the inner core, to cooler temperatures adjoining the crust. In that sense the potential geothermal energy is everywhere.

The problem is not that the energy only exists in isolated pockets; rather,it is a question of being able to access it for commercial purposes. This is where the real disadvantages emerge, as we shall see later on in this article.

Production of geothermal energy results in the release of harmful gases.

This assertion was certainly true for the earlier types of geothermal power plants, using dry steam technology. Even then, however, it is important to see it in its proper context.

The emissions contained some sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and water vapor, but all, we must hasten to add, in significantly lower proportions compared with the emissions from coal and gas plants.

These emissions are not because of the production process, since there is no combustion. They occur because they naturally occur at the levels where the energy is being accessed.

Modern technology using the binary cycle system feeds the emission material back into the ground and is often referred to as a “closed loop” system. With this technology the emissions are reduced to a very low level indeed.

comparative graph of geothermal emissions

What Are The Real Geothermal Energy Disadvantages

There are only two significant disadvantages and they are closely related, as we shall see.

Exploration and location

By its very nature, energy from deep within the earth, geothermal energy involves deep and careful exploration. Even though the earth has widespread high temperature regions below the surface, some are more equal than others.

Drilling in areas of volcanic activity or fault lines may be easier and more profitable than in areas without those features. The drilling is expensive and time consuming. However the technology is improving, led by the USA who are the world's biggest producers. One disturbing feature that has emerged is the fact that drilling down several miles and putting in water under pressure may trigger earthquakes.

Although the establishment costs are high geothermal energy is still very cost-competitive as you will see if you visit our geothermal costs page.

When you consider the possibilities for home usage there are virtually no disadvantages. If you have a fair bit of land alongside your home you can simply have a trench dug, say four meters deep and Two meters wide and lay a system of pipes to transfer the ground heat into your home. After your installation costs you have no fuel costs, apart from a little electricity for pumping.

Time-limited production

it is true that in some areas, after a number of years, the supply will gradually lessen and disappear. This issue is closely related to exploration and location.

For example, the build up of heat in the earth's mantle is a very gradual process occurring over thousands of years. However, if you mine that heat at a faster rate than which it accumulated, then you will exhaust that particular area, in say 100 yeas.

That's just an example, but it illustrates the issue. With high exploration and capital costs, you don't want to choose a site for your geothermal power plant where your extraction rate will cause it to dissipate or disappear in a short time.

In the end, the geothermal energy disadvantages are all about exploration and location.

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