Utilizing Geothermal Energy for Power, Heating and Cooling
For years geothermal energy and power has been limited in context to utilization of naturally occurring steam that has been used to turn turbines and consequently create electric power. These natural occurrences are tapped into with what are known as geothermal wells. Due to these occurrences being limited in location to areas along tectonic plate faults (cracks in the Earth’s shell) there generally has not been too much effective use of geothermal resources. In fact geothermal power amounts to just .3% of our worldwide energy production.
In much the same way as we drilled the Earth for oil over the last hundred years, we can drill for acceptable geothermal outlets. As with the search for fossil fuels, we simply attempt to find places that are hot enough and close enough to the Earth’s core so as to allow for injection of water which will then be turned to steam so as to drive an electricity producing turbine. Just as when drilling for oil, drilling for geothermal access costs millions of dollars.
Of course, the majority of geothermal power stations rely upon the natural occurrence of steam as a result of water intrusion into the inner reaches of the Earth where nearby magma has heated the surrounding rock. In many ways this natural creation of blazing hot steam is rare but the sheer size of the earth makes so many opportunities for the occurrence and the ease of discovery has resulted in quite a few large geothermal fields being placed into use.

The largest geothermal power station in the world is known as “The Geysers”. It is located around 72 miles north of San Francisco. Technically not geysers, the entire area is a geothermal hotbed with 22 power plants combining to create over 1300 megawatts of power. Power from The Geysers provides 60% of all the electricity used in the area of California from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border.
Unlike our general concept of steam from a tea kettle or used in an antique locomotive, the geothermal fields of The Geysers produce super heated dry steam. The ultra hot non vaporous steam can more efficiently drive turbines.
Unfortunately, the natural flow of water into The Geysers area has steadily diminished over the years and the overall power output has fallen. Basically the area supplying water to the hot rock beneath the Earth’s surface has begun to dry up. Less water equals less steam which equals less power. Plans are underway to possibly convert the power stations to inject “Brown Water” from the area so as to create a truly regenerative and sustainable power source.
Unlike wind or solar power, geothermal energy is not always endless in supply.

But there are far more effective ways to tap into the variances and differentials in the Earth’s temperatures. One doesn’t need to dig a well to a fissure point of water and molten lava to take advantage of geothermal resources. Indeed, a more passive approach to energy production is proving to be more efficient.
Geothermal energy can be tapped into on many different levels. The individual homeowner can use geothermal energy to both heat and cool his or her home at a tremendous savings. Anyone can take advantage of geothermal energy in their home.

Basically home geothermal is used for home heating and air conditioning. A home geothermal heating and air conditioning system centers around piping filled with fluid buried deep in the ground of your property. These pipes can be coils of plastic tubing laid horizontally just 10 – 20 feet below the surface of the earth or they may be vertically placed hundreds of feet deep.
The purpose of these pipes is to take advantage of the relatively stable temperatures of the Earth once one digs down a bit. Even in the coldest climates, the Earth’s temperature is at least 55 degrees at a depth of 20 feet.
As one digs deeper into the Earth, the stored energy of the sun is replaced by the heat of the Earth’s core. The core of the Earth is molten rock with a temperature of around 8000 degrees.
Home geothermal systems take advantage of this differential directly. Obviously during the summer one can easily run water cooled under the earth through radiators and send that endless supply of 55 degree cooling into a home’s 90 degree air. This is so effective that many eco-conscious homes are cooled by air pipes hundreds of feet long. In this most passive example of geothermal energy use, air is blown through huge hollow pipes which run underground. The heat is drawn by conduction from this air as it passes through the length of cool underground. It is then returned directly through the duct-work of the home. Basically this is air conditioning with no need for compressors, coolant or mechanical heat exchange. Consequently the cost to run an air pipe cooling system is incredibly low.
By comparison, heating systems relying upon geothermal exchange must use heat pumps that mechanically trade on the temperature differential so as to build a greater amount of heat. While this is more efficient than other forms of creating heat such as electrical friction it does still have a cost. A heat pump based from a geothermal piping system is still two to four times as initially expensive as conventional heating.
Passive Geothermal heating and air conditioning is just one aspect of what falls under the heading of Green Building which shows we can design and build our homes and commercial buildings from the outset to use less energy.

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