geothermal energy

Maybe you’ve been evaluating your current home climate control setup and feel ready to go with a more sustainable option. Perhaps you’ve also felt concerned about how energy often comes from distant sources, which can sometimes lead to insecurity. Geothermal energy is a solution to these situations and others. Learn more about the pros and cons of geothermal energy systems for your home and how you can find geothermal energy installers near you.

What Is Geothermal Energy?

Geothermal energy comes from within the Earth. Most current heating and cooling applications relate to low-enthalpy forms of geothermal energy, meaning it comes from rocks or the Earth’s crust. However, high-enthalpy types also exist, where geysers or volcanoes are the heat source.

Geothermal energy is also a power generation option. Statistics from the International Energy Agency (IEA) confirmed a 2% year-on-year growth in 2020, with Turkey, Kenya, and Indonesia collectively responsible for most of it.

However, the IEA’s report clarified the increase is not enough to put the world on track to meet the goals mentioned in the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario. One of them is for the world to achieve 13% in per-year gains for geothermal energy power generation from 2021–2030.

How Does a Geothermal Energy System Work?

Geothermal energy systems have straightforward setups, making them appealing even to people who still consider themselves unfamiliar with the concept. The infrastructure relies on looped pipes through which refrigerant or water flows. The underground movement of the water or refrigerant generates warmth, which gets transferred to the associated building.

steam coming from geothermal energy

After the heating occurs, the liquid cools and goes underground again, completing a step in a repeating cycle. During the summer, the liquid has a cooling effect on the property, then goes back underground with the warmth going into the geothermal pipe system.

Ground Source Heat Pumps — A Viable Solution for Homes and Businesses

The primary way for people to directly benefit from geothermal energy is to install a ground source heat pump (GSHP). Installing a GSHP means a homeowner can heat or cool their residence with a product that pulls heat from below the Earth’s frost layer. In contrast, air-source heat pumps get energy from the ambient air outside the home.

Geothermal Energy Examples in Residential and Commercial Spaces

Ground source heat pumps can help a household minimize its carbon footprint by choosing a highly efficient and sustainable option. Some commercial customers also choose to install them.

In one recent geothermal energy example, the United Kingdom’s Hereford County Hospital received two ground source heat pumps to warm two of the facility’s buildings. Estimates suggest the change will cause an approximate 97% reduction in the carbon dioxide needed to heat the hospital. That difference translates into 3,715 fewer tons of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere yearly.

One of the geothermal energy facts you’ll hear most often relates to its consistency. Greg Wolfson is the chief technology officer at EcoSmart Solution, which specializes in geothermal solutions for residential customers. He explained the temperature 30–40 feet below the Earth’s surface stays 72–74° Fahrenheit, regardless of the above-ground conditions.

His company is a subsidiary of Taurus Investment Holdings, which will eventually launch a project to create a geothermal grid that heats and cools the homes within a 7,500-residence community. Each house will have electric-powered geothermal systems inside. Since each residence also has solar panels, the system will keep working even if the power goes out.

What Are the Main Geothermal Energy Advantages?

Switching to geothermal energy is a major decision. However, it’s more manageable when you know about some of the associated perks. They can justify changing how you heat and cool your home.

Minimize Fossil Fuel Reliance and Reduce Emissions

One of the most widely cited perks associated with geothermal energy is that it’s a clean option. Its extraction occurs without the use of fossil fuels. However, your geothermal system may still use fossil fuels indirectly, depending on its power source. Moreover, geothermal fields only have about one-sixth of the associated carbon dioxide emissions of natural gas power plants.

Enjoy Plentiful Availability

The war in Ukraine has made many people more concerned with energy security as they think about how far gas must travel to reach them. However, the nice thing about geothermal energy is it’s always available.

Jefferson Tester — a Cornell University sustainable energy systems professor — clarified there’s no question of geothermal energy’s availability. He also said it’s a fully dispatchable and scalable heat and power source.

Geothermal energy’s potential is also exceptionally high in certain places. Hungarian politician Sandor Ronai believes conditions in his country are highly favorable for increased geothermal energy usage. However, the landlocked nation currently gets 85% of its energy from Russia and only 2% from geothermal sources. Estimates indicate 80–90 million cubic meters of thermal water hotter than 86° Fahrenheit come from underground in Hungary yearly, at depths ranging from 300 to 2,500 feet.

Get the Potential to Increase Home Values

People considering geothermal systems for their homes often wonder how that decision might affect their residences once they go up for sale. Individuals familiar with the matter say geothermal energy does not guarantee higher home values. However, there’s generally no detrimental effect, provided the house’s area has technicians who can service the system.

It’s also important to note that many younger people are particularly eager to live sustainably, including by choosing to live in homes with eco-friendly features. A 2022 Deloitte survey of Millennials and Gen Z individuals showed nine in 10 respondents actively attempt to protect the environment. Additionally, half of those polled intend to make significant, more expensive sustainable upgrades in the future, including installing geothermal energy options or purchasing electric cars.

Getting the best outcomes when selling a home requires knowing the market and addressing potential buyers’ pain points. As such, appealing to environmentally minded consumers could make it easier to highlight geothermal energy advantages in a for-sale ad.

What Are the Downsides of Geothermal Energy?

Geothermal energy is like everything else in that it has some characteristics that may make it less attractive to particular consumers. Here are some key geothermal energy disadvantages to know.

A Relatively Low Level of Public Awareness

Many people dislike change and are unlikely to adopt something new unless they know a lot about it first. That’s problematic for geothermal energy adoption rates, especially since some who could benefit from it remain unaware of the advantages.

Consider a research study performed in a part of Indonesia chosen as the possible site for a geothermal energy power plant. The results indicated 33.3% of respondents would include renewability in their geothermal energy description. Instead, 48.5% felt unsure about whether geothermal energy is renewable. Additionally, only 16.2% thought geothermal energy was an environmentally friendly source.

In the United States, the Department of Energy announced a 2021 funding boost for geothermal energy research. The initiative encompassed $12 million for seven research projects to increase efficiency and affordability. As researchers improve geothermal energy outcomes, more people should gradually become aware of what’s possible.

A Possible Seismic Activity Risk

Another downside to be aware of is geothermal energy could raise seismic activity levels, making earthquakes more likely. However, that’s not a reason to automatically write off geothermal energy as an option.

Some researchers advocate for taking an evolving risk approach to geothermal projects rather than primarily focusing on the hazards. One way to do that is to estimate the likelihood of earthquakes of various magnitudes occurring due to a geothermal initiative. Having such data helps civil engineers and other professionals make highly informed decisions about acceptable risk levels.

Plus, a 2021 study from California Institute of Technology researchers suggested geothermal energy does not raise seismic activity across the board. They confirmed small earthquakes could become more prevalent in the early stages of a geothermal project. However, these efforts may suppress seismic activity over the long term.

A Local Wildlife Threat?

People are also concerned upcoming geothermal projects may put already-at-risk animals under further threat. Nevada’s Dixie Meadows toad is a good example. This endangered species lives solely within the 760 acres of lush land at the foot of the nearby Stillwater Mountains.

However, the planned Dixie Meadows Geothermal Project may disrupt its habitat or even dry up the surrounding springs. People familiar with the undertaking are at odds about the impact on the Dixie Meadows toad, largely because the project is in its early stages. It may take years to see the full extent of any adverse outcomes.

It’s also worth pointing out that any geothermal energy project requires an extensive environmental assessment. Those can’t happen quickly. Deciding whether to go ahead is all about weighing the risks against the likely benefits. Plus, people may understandably argue that climate change threatens wildlife too, and geothermal projects will help mitigate its effects.

How Much Does It Cost to Get Geothermal Energy?

One of the possible geothermal energy disadvantages to keep in mind is it has a significant associated price range that may make it harder to budget. Estimates suggest a geothermal heat pump for a home could cost from $10,000–$40,000. The total depends on things such as the size of your land, the condition of the soil, and the required amount of digging and drilling. It could also take anywhere from four to 15 years to recoup the costs, depending on installation expenses and utility rates.

Dandelion Energy is a New York-based startup aiming to make geothermal energy accessible and affordable to consumers. However, the prices may remain too steep for some homeowners. They’re at least $18,000, although the company plans to mimic the pay-as-you-go option that helped solar power gain momentum. It also offers financing.

It’s essential to have a long-term viewpoint about geothermal energy costs instead of being overly concerned about upfront expenses. In Ferrara, Italy, residents get about 40% of their heat from geothermal sources. Projections indicate they could save 20–30% in energy costs over a year. That’s partly due to how geothermal energy prices are about 50-70% lower than gas for the winter of 2022.

The money-saving potential of geothermal systems is particularly high in the Northern part of the United States. That’s because the winters get so cold there that people spend significant money on heating costs. Any method of bringing them down is a welcome one.

You may also be eligible for tax credits to make the installation costs more manageable. Legislators recently extended existing renewable energy tax credits for residences in the United States through 2032. Geothermal energy installers in your area can give you details about eligibility and how to apply. State-level programs exist, too. Connecticut residents can get up to $15,000 for switching out propane or oil furnaces for geothermal systems.

What Should You Look for in a Geothermal Energy Installers?

Installing a geothermal energy system requires specialized knowledge and is not a DIY project. Finding qualified geothermal energy installers becomes easier once you think about specific characteristics for those service providers to have ideally. They include:

  • Experience: How long has the company and installer provided geothermal energy solutions? Has the installation professional worked on projects similar to yours?
  • Transparency: Does the geothermal energy installer take the time to explain the process and associated costs, helping you make an informed decision about whether to proceed?
  • Responsiveness: Have you received replies about all questions or concerns within reasonable timeframes?
  • Relevant knowledge: Does the installer seem to understand fundamental geothermal energy facts and know how to assess your site for installation suitability?

Are You Ready to Get Geothermal Energy?

It takes most people quite a bit to progress from the day they first learn the geothermal energy definition to when they decide to have a system installed. However, this introduction should help you determine if it’s the right option for you and start to take steps toward installation.

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