UGTH: Use Geothermal
Geothermal power is energy generated by heat stored beneath the Earth's
surface. Geothermal power supplies 0.416% of the world's energy. Geothermal
comes from the Greek words geo, meaning earth, and therme, meaning heat. Prince
Piero Ginori Conti tested the first geothermal power plant on 4 July 1904, at
the Larderello dry steam field in Italy. The largest group of geothermal power
plants in the world is located in The Geysers, a geothermal field in California.
Three different types of power plants - dry steam, flash, and binary - are used
to generate electricity from geothermal energy, depending on temperature, depth,
and quality of the water and steam in the area. In all cases the condensed steam
and remaining geothermal fluid is injected back into the ground to pick up more
heat. In some locations, the natural supply of water producing steam from the
hot underground magma deposits has been exhausted and processed waste water is
injected to replenish the supply. Most geothermal fields have more fluid
recharge than heat, so re-injection can cool the resource, unless it is
The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in IcelandA dry steam power plant uses
hot steam, typically above 235°C (455°F), to directly power its turbines. This
is the oldest type of geothermal power plant and is still in use today. Dry
steam plants emit small amounts of excess steam and gases.
Flash steam power plants use hot water above 182°C (360°F) from geothermal
reservoirs. The high pressure underground keeps the water in liquid form, even
though it is well above the boiling point for water at sea level. As the water
is pumped from the reservoir to the power plant, the drop in pressure causes the
water to convert, or "flash", into steam to power the turbine. Any water not
flashed into steam is injected back into the reservoir for reuse.
Flash steam plants are the most common type of geothermal power generation
plants in operation today. An example of an area using the flash steam operation
is the CalEnergy Navy I flash geothermal power plant at the Coso geothermal
The water used in binary-cycle power plants is cooler than that of flash steam
plants. The hot fluid from geothermal reservoirs is passed through a heat
exchanger which transfers heat to a separate pipe containing fluids with a much
lower boiling point. These fluids, usually Iso-butane or Iso-pentane, are
vaporized to power the turbine. . The advantage to binary-cycle power plants is
their lower cost and increased efficiency. These plants also do not emit any
excess gas and are able to utilize lower temperature reservoirs, which are much
more common. Most geothermal power plants planned for construction are
Enhanced Geothermal Systems
M Hot dry rock geothermal energy
Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS), also known as Hot-dry-rock systems, involve
pumping water into hot rocks in the earth, rather than harvesting hot water
already in the earth. This type of geothermal system has many advantages over
the others, as it can be used anywhere, not just in tectonically active regions.
However, it requires deeper drilling than the other forms of geothermal energy
Geothermal energy offers a number of advantages over traditional fossil fuel
based sources. From an environmental standpoint, the energy harnessed is clean
and safe for the surrounding environment. It is also sustainable because the hot
water used in the geothermal process can be re-injected into the ground to
produce more steam. In addition, geothermal power plants are unaffected by
changing weather conditions. Geothermal power works continually, day and night,
providing baseload power. From an economic view, geothermal energy is extremely
price competitive in some areas and reduces reliance on fossil fuels and their
inherent price unpredictability. Given enough excess capacity, geothermal energy
can also be sold to outside sources such as neighboring countries or private
businesses that require energy. It also offers a degree of scalability: a large
geothermal plant can power entire cities while smaller power plants can supply
more remote sites such as rural villages.
There are several environmental concerns behind geothermal energy. Construction
of the power plants can adversely affect land stability in the surrounding
region. For example, increased seismic activity can occur because of well
drilling and land subsidence can become a problem as older wells begin to cool
down. . Dry steam and flash steam power plants also emit low levels of carbon
dioxide, nitric oxide, and sulfur, although at roughly 5% of the levels emitted
by fossil fuel power plants. Geothermal plants can be built with
emissions-controlling systems that can inject these gases back into the earth,
thereby reducing carbon emissions to less than 0.1% of those from fossil fuel
Although geothermal sites are capable of providing heat for many decades,
eventually specific locations may cool down. It is likely that in these
locations, the system was designed too large for the site, since there is only
so much energy that can be stored and replenished in a given volume of earth.
Some interpret this as meaning a specific geothermal location can undergo
depletion, and question whether geothermal energy is truly renewable, but if
left alone, these places will recover some of their lost heat, as the mantle has
vast heat reserves. The government of Iceland states: "It should be stressed
that the geothermal resource is not strictly renewable in the same sense as the
hydro resource." It estimates that Iceland's geothermal energy could provide
1700 MW for over 100 years, compared to the current production of 140 MW.
If heat recovered by ground source heat pumps is included, the non-electric
generating capacity of geothermal energy is estimated at more than 100 GW (gigawatts
of thermal power) and is used commercially in over 70 countries. During 2005,
contracts were placed for an additional 0.5 GW of capacity in the United States,
while there were also plants under construction in 11 other countries.
Estimates of exploitable worldwide geothermal energy resources vary
considerably. According to a 1999 study, it was thought that this might amount
to between 65 and 138 GW of electrical generation capacity 'using enhanced
A 2006 report by MIT that took into account the use of Enhanced Geothermal
Systems (EGS) concluded that it would be affordable to generate 100 GWe (gigawatts
of electricity) or more by 2050 in the United States alone, for a maximum
investment of 1 billion US dollars in research and development over 15 years.
The MIT report calculated the world's total EGS resources to be over 13,000 ZJ,
of which over 200 ZJ would be extractable, with the potential to increase this
to over 2,000 ZJ with technology improvements - sufficient to provide all the
world's energy needs for several millennia.
The key characteristic of an EGS (also called a Hot Dry Rock system) is that it
reaches at least 10 km down into hard rock. At a typical site two holes would be
bored and the deep rock between them fractured. Water would be pumped down one
and steam would come up the other. The MIT report estimated that there was
enough energy in hard rocks 10 km below the United States to supply all the
world's current needs for 30,000 years. There seems no reason why the steam
should not feed an existing coal, oil or nuclear fired generating plant.
Drilling at this depth is now routine for the oil industry (Exxon announced an
11 km hole at the Chayvo field, Sakhalin. Lloyds List 1/5/07 p 6). The
technological challenges are to drill wider bores and to break rock over larger
volumes. Apart from the energy used to make the bores, the process releases no
greenhouse gases. Compared to the difficulties of developing other forms of
energy supply (nuclear, wind, wave, solar etc.) EGS seems to be well worth
Other important countries are China, Hungary, Nicaragua, Iceland, and New
Zealand. There is also a planned site in Adelaide, Australia that is over 1km
History of development
Geothermal steam and hot springs have been used for centuries for bathing and
heating, but it wasn't until the 20th century that geothermal power started
being used to make electricity.
Prince Piero Ginori Conti tested the first geothermal power plant on 4 July
1904, at the Larderello dry steam field in Italy.
The first Geothermal power plant in the United States was made in 1922 by John
D. Grant at The Geysers Resort Hotel. After drilling for more steam, he was able
to generate enough electricity to light the entire resort. Eventually the power
plant fell into disuse, as it was not competitive with other methods of energy
In 1960, Pacific Gas and Electric began operation of the first successful
geothermal power plant in the United States at The Geysers. It lasted for more
than 30 years and produced 11 MW net power.
Development around the world
Geothermal power is generated in over 20 countries around the world including
Iceland, the United States, Italy, France, Samogitia (Lithuania), New Zealand,
Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Russia, the Philippines, Indonesia, the People's
Republic of China and Japan. Canada's government (which officially notes some
30,000 earth-heat installations for providing space heating to Canadian
residential and commercial buildings) reports a test geothermal-electrical site
in the Meager Mountain-Pebble Creek area of British Columbia, where a 100 MW
facility could be developed.
Geothermal power is very cost-effective in the Rift area of Africa. Kenya's
KenGen has built two plants, Olkaria I (45 MW) and Olkaria II (65 MW), with a
third private plant Olkaria III (48 MW) run by geothermal specialist geothermal
specialist Ormat. Plans are to increase production capacity by another 576 MW by
2017, covering 25% of Kenya's electricity needs, and correspondingly reducing
dependency on imported oil.
M Geothermal energy exploration in Central Australia
M Geothermal power in Iceland
Iceland is situated in an area with a high concentration of volcanoes, making it
an ideal location for generating geothermal energy. Over 26% of Iceland's energy
is generated from geothermal sources. In addition, geothermal heating is used to
heat 87% of homes in Iceland.
M Kawerau geothermal power station
Geothermal power plant in Valencia, Negros Oriental, Philippines
The US Geothermal Education Office and a 1980 article entitled "The Philippines
geothermal success story" by Rudolph J. Birsic published in the journal
Geothermal Energy(vol. 8, Aug.-Sept. 1980, p. 35-44) note the remarkable
geothermal resources of the Philippines. During the World Geothermal Congress
2000 held in Beppu, ōita Prefecture of Japan (May-June 2000), it was reported
that the Philippines is the largest consumer of electricity from geothermal
sources and highlighted the potential role of geothermal energy in providing
energy needs for developing countries. According to the International Geothermal
Association (IGA), worldwide, the Philippines ranks second to the United States
in producing geothermal energy. As of the end of 2003, the US has a capacity of
2.02 million kilowatts of geothermal power, while the Philippines can generate
1.93 million kilowatts. (Italy is third with 0.79 million kilowatts). Early
statistics from the Institute for Green Resources and Environment stated that
Philippine geothermal energy provides 16% of the country's electricity. More
recent statistics from the IGA show that combined energy from geothermal power
plants in the islands of Luzon, Leyte, Negros and Mindanao account for
approximately 27% of the country's electricity generation. Leyte is one of the
islands in the Philippines where the first geothermal power plant started
operations in July 1977.
M Geothermal power in the United Kingdom
The West Ford Flat power plant is one of 21 power plants at The Geysers
M Geothermal energy in the United States
The United States is the country with the greatest geothermal energy production.
The largest dry steam field in the world is The Geysers, 72 miles (116 km) north
of San Francisco. The Geysers began in 1960, has 1360 MW of installed capacity
and produces over 750 MW net. Calpine Corporation now owns 19 of the 21 plants
in The Geysers and is currently the United States' largest producer of renewable
geothermal energy. The other two plants are owned jointly by the Northern
California Power Agency and the City of Santa Clara's municipal Electric Utility
(now called Silicon Valley Power). Since the activities of one geothermal plant
affects those nearby, the consolidation plant ownership at The Geysers has been
beneficial because the plants operate cooperatively instead of in their own
short-term interest. The Geysers is now recharged by injecting treated sewage
effluent from the City of Santa Rosa and the Lake County sewage treatment plant.
This sewage effluent used to be dumped into rivers and streams and is now piped
to the geothermal field where it replenishes the steam produced for power
Another major geothermal area is located in south central California, on the
southeast side of the Salton Sea, near the cities of Niland and Calipatria,
California. As of 2001, there were 15 geothermal plants producing electricity in
the area. CalEnergy owns about half of them and the rest are owned by various
companies. Combined the plants have a capacity of about 570 megawatts.
The Basin and Range geologic province in Nevada, southeastern Oregon,
southwestern Idaho, Arizona and western Utah is now an area of rapid geothermal
development. Several small power plants were built during the late 1980s during
times of high power prices. Rising energy costs have spurred new development.
Plants in Nevada at Steamboat near Reno, Brady/Desert Peak, Dixie Valley, Soda
Lake, Stillwater and Beowawe now produce about 235 MW.
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