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Geothermal Electricity Picks up Steam

9/21/2007 12:00:00 AM


Harnessing the hot energy resting below the earth's surface isn't new technology—people have been using hot springs for cooking and bathing since the dawn of civilization. Today's techniques, though, make geothermal electricity a viable renewable energy option in more places around the country than you might think.

Geothermal energy is converted to electricity by either a 'flash' process or a 'binary' process. In flash technology, highly pressurized, extremely hot water is piped from its underground source to a geothermal electricity plant. Once it is released, it flashes into steam, which then drives a turbine, creating electricity. The binary process uses water at lower temperatures, but creates the same eventual effect.

Although certain areas of the country are warmer underground, and therefore better suited for harvesting geothermal energy, a recent report by MIT found that geothermal resources can be found all over the country, not just in the West. If explored nationwide, geothermal electricity could eventually comprise as much as 20 percent of our nation's generating power, according to a recent Reuters article on the U.S. geothermal energy sector.

All of this development could be costly, though. This article on explains that the geothermal industry will need to invest $16.9 billion over the next several years in order to tap these resources.

While start-up costs can be steep for geothermal facilities, the plants have no fuel costs and reasonable maintenance and operation expenses. In addition, geothermal energy can be harnessed day or night and in any weather conditions, which makes it more reliable than either wind or solar energy. 

Check out this interactive map to see where geothermal energy is being utilized around the country, and keep in mind that the help Mother earth needs might soon come from within her.

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