- What Is Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal energy comes from the heat within the earth. The word “geothermal” comes from the Greek words geo, meaning earth,” and therme, meaning “heat.” People around the world use geothermal energy to produce electricity, to heat buildings and greenhouses, and for other purposes.
The earth’s core lies almost 4,000 miles beneath the earth’s surface. The double-layered core is made up of very hot molten iron surrounding a solid iron center. Estimates of the temperature of the core range from 5,000 to 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Heat is continuously produced within the earth by the slow decay of radioactive particles that is natural in all rocks.
Surrounding the earth’s core is the mantle, thought to be partly rock and partly magma. The mantle is about 1,800 miles thick. The outermost layer of the earth, the insulating crust, is not one continuous sheet of rock, like the shell of an egg, but is broken into pieces called plates. These slabs of continents and ocean floor drift apart and push against each other at the rate of about one inch per year in a process called continental drift.
Magma (molten rock) may come quite close to the surface where the crust has been thinned, faulted, or fractured by plate tectonics. When this near-surface heat is transferred to water, a usable form of geother- energy is created.
Geothermal energy is called a renewable energy source because the water is replenished by rainfall, and the heat is continuously produced by the earth.
- History of Geothermal Energy
Many ancient peoples, including the Romans, Chinese, and Native Americans, used hot mineral springs for bathing, cooking, and heating. Water from hot springs is now used world-wide in spas, for heating buildings, and for agricultural and industrial uses. Many people believe hot mineral springs have natural healing powers.
Using geothermal energy to produce electricity is a relatively new industry. It was initiated by a group of Italians who built an electric generator at Lardarello in 1904. Their generator was powered by the natural steam erupting from the earth.
The first attempt to develop geothermal power in the United States came in 1922 at The Geysers steam field in northern California. The project failed because the pipes and turbines of the day could not stand up to the abrasion and corrosion of the particles and impurities that were in the steam. Later, a small but successful …