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What is Geothermal Renewable Energy?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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Geothermal renewable energy is a type of energy that uses the natural power contained in the Earth in order to provide useful energy for people, most often when converted to electricity. This type of energy is known to have many benefits, but it may not be the right choice in all situations. Still, geothermal renewable energy is one of those products that create a great deal of buzz in the media.

The Earth, though it may not seem like it to the casual observer, is a very geologically active body. Plates are shifting all the time, creating fissures in the surface where heat can escape from underneath the crust. Geothermal renewable energy seeks to take advantage of this by placing plants in certain areas, which can then convert the energy and send it to where it needs to be.

Geothermal renewable energy is part of a larger family of energy resources that are not only renewable, but considered environmentally-friendly energy sources. This is because the only byproduct that is created, in most cases, is steam. This steam vaporizes in the air, perhaps staying in the atmosphere, but eventually falling back down to Earth in the form of clean water. Thus, there is hardly any pollution.

Strictly speaking, geothermal renewable energy is not a renewable source of energy. Rather, once the energy is released, captured and converted, it changes to a form that cannot easily be recaptured. However, it is renewable in the sense that the energy source is nearly unlimited. It is unlikely the Earth, at least in the imaginable future, will run out of heat, which means geothermal energy can continuously be tapped as an energy source time and time again.

Still, geothermal renewable energy has its limits. For example, power plants taking advantage of the source must be close to where heat can escape to the surface. Only then can the turbines be turned and electricity created. While heat distribution under the Earth's crust is nearly uniform, places where it can easily reach the surface are not. Therefore, while it may be a viable option in some cases, in others it will not be.

In some cases, geothermal power may come in the way of a natural steam vent. In such cases, just channeling the steam to power a turbine is all that is required to produce electricity. In other cases, steam may need to be created through a chemical process. This could take more resources, but still does not add any pollution to the air.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon70903 — On Mar 16, 2010

Thanks for the great information. We need to keep spreading the news about all the benefits of geothermal technology!

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