Is Geothermal Energy Renewable or Nonrenewable?
Terrapin • February 21, 2022
4 minute read
The more the world moves towards net-zero energy systems and emissions, the more we are inclined to invest in sustainable options to support this transition. One of these options has been residing underground, far beneath the surface of the Earth, for centuries. We're talking about geothermal energy – a familiar, though still widely misunderstood, concept to many. However, as we begin to drill deeper and in many new locations for this new source of heat and electricity, some people may wonder, "Is geothermal energy renewable or nonrenewable? And, how does this resource fit into our clean energy future?" Keep reading to find out more.
Let's Answer the Question: "Is Geothermal Energy a Renewable Resource?"
Geothermal energy isn't exactly an advanced concept – though the technology humans have developed over the years to harness its power is. The center of the Earth contains the core, an area almost as hot as the sun's surface. This heat comes from the slow decay of radioactive particles like potassium-40 and thorium-232. As this heat travels towards the Earth's surface, thermal energy is transferred to rocks and water, where it can be used by humans.
Humans have been using naturally occurring geothermal energy for cooking and bathing for thousands of years – accessing the energy through hot springs, lava flows, geysers, and fumaroles. The first time humans harnessed the power of geothermal energy for industrial electrical use was in 1904, in Tuscany, Italy, where heat was piped from deep underground. Through years of continuous research and development, technology has reached a point where humans can access hot water deep underground and use it to create electricity and supply heat to the places that need it most.
Geothermal systems run on the naturally occurring heat built up in underground reservoirs and transferred by hot water. Once the water has been stripped of its heat, it can be returned to the reservoir, naturally reheated and used again. This means that geothermal energy is a renewable, sustainable and clean energy source that can help reduce the carbon footprint of industries that harness it, such as oil and gas, agriculture, manufacturing and more. Because the core of the Earth generates heat 24/7, 365 days a year, geothermal energy can produce baseload, or constant, reliable heat and electricity – a capability that many renewable energy sources lack. This further illustrates why geothermal energy is renewable and more sustainable than most other forms of energy.
4 MW geothermal power plant in Pico Alto.
(Photo: Exergy International)
How Terrapin Harnesses the Power of Geothermal Energy
As the world continues to adapt and the need for renewable and sustainable heating and electricity grows, Terrapin Geothermics is working to help get this energy to the places that need it. Geothermal energy is a unique renewable resource that can provide constant heat and power, and it has the lowest surface area footprint of any renewable energy source. Terrapin taps into low-moderate temperature (enthalpy) geothermal resource formations and harnesses the heat with Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) technology, which can use air-cooled systems, negating the need for water diversion and disturbance. These geothermal resources can generate heat and power without creating greenhouse gas emissions and is available in basins worldwide - including the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, where Terrapin’s Alberta No. 1 geothermal project is located.
As we’re developing Alberta No. 1 in a transforming oil and gas economy, simply asking, "Is geothermal energy a renewable resource?" is not enough to bring this project to life. We also focus our attention to what the world can use it for and how it can better our planet. At Terrapin Geothermics, we understand how energy from geothermal resources can be appropriately obtained for clean heating, electricity and energy-intensive purposes. Some examples of key industries that could benefit from beneficial geothermal energy needs include:
Soil warming & sterilization
Crop drying & lumber drying
Ammonia product & chemical processing
The type of geothermal energy applications listed above should not be confused with what can be provided by geo-exchange technology or the geothermal heat pump you may have in your home or community building. While they both use heat sources, geo-exchange and geothermal energy systems are quite different. With conventional geothermal energy production, the heat we extract from deep within the Earth radiates from the core and can generate electricity. In contrast, geo-exchange systems use stable, low-temperature solar energy absorbed in shallow ground to provide heating and cooling. During cold seasons, a heat pump transfers the heat from the ground to be distributed into buildings with minimal electricity. That same pump can provide cooling during warm seasons, sending heat from buildings back into the system and treating the shallow ground as a thermal battery. Terrapin Geothermics focuses on the use of deep or conventional geothermal energy, as it can be scaled up for industrial use.
Interested in Getting a Clean Energy Project Started?
Now that you understand how and why geothermal energy is renewable (and some of the best ways to utilize it), why not start your very own clean energy project with Terrapin Geothermics?
At Terrapin, we identify and develop geothermal projects to help provide a clean and renewable energy source to the people who need it the most. Our experts have decades of experience investigating geological formations and developing profitable geothermal projects. To help you, we take on the project's design, procurement, financing and management with our unique business model. Contact us to discuss your geothermal energy project and build your sustainability story.