We have used geothermal energy for over 10,000 years, dating back to when ancient humans cooked and bathed in hot springs. It was not until 1960 when the first geothermal power plant in the United States was established for electricity generation. Many decades down the line, the country is home to 69 power plants located in distinct locations which are affected by underground heat via geological processes. Some of these plants are located here in Nevada, with more yet to come.

How Geothermal Energy is Produced

In 1904, Piero Ginori, an Italian scientist, was the first to figure out how to convert steam from underground into electric power. Since then, there have been great technological advancements that have necessitated further production.

Conventional power plants usually burn fuel to heat water and create steam for driving turbines. In geothermal, however, involves tapping underground hot-water reservoirs. The steam from this heated liquid then generates electricity like any other steam turbine generator. For this process, plants must push through naturally permeable, deep rock formations.

States across the globe have adopted the technology to generate clean, renewable energy efficiently.

As of 2017, global generation of geothermal power was approximately 84.8 TWh. The cumulative capacity stood at 14 GW.

Locations Where Geothermal Energy is Harnessed

Since 1971, geothermal energy has been America’s small yet consistent electricity source, providing about 0.4 percent of the entire country’s geothermal capacity in 2013 alone.

The state of California hosts most of the geothermal power plants, due to heat-producing geologic activity, but more plants are being established in the western United States. Other states include Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, and New Mexico.

In Nevada, power providers are required by law to produce 20% of their electric power from renewable sources. Being among the states with the highest amount of sunshine, solar would be the most reasonable source. But as of 2016, geothermal energy generated approximately 50% of the power. The statistics show just how much important this natural energy source is.

Here are some of the major power producting sites:

  • Beowawe Power – 17.7 megawatts
  • Brady – 24 megawatts
  • Burdette – 26 megawatts
  • Desert Peak 2 – 25 megawatts
  • Jersey Valley – 22.5 megawatts
  • McGinnis Hills – 96 megawatts
  • NGP Blue Mountain – 49.5 megawatts
  • Tuscarora – 32 megawatts

Pros of Geothermal Energy

Compared to conventional energy sources, geothermal has the following advantages:

  • The sourcing is healthy for the environment
  • It is impossible to deplete the resource because these geologic heat-producing processes are ongoing.
  • It is a reliable source, available all year long without relying on neither the sun nor wind
  • Geothermal systems are highly efficient, utilizing between 25 – 50 percent less electricity than any conventional system
  • It requires little to no system maintenance considering it has only a few movable parts, hence a higher life-span
  • It is an excellent option to meet the baseload demand
  • This source has a smaller footprint on the land
  • Recent advancements in technology have lowered production costs and made more resources exploitable

Cons of Geothermal Energy

Here are the factors that limit the full exploitation of geothermal energy:

  • Environmental issues – Gasses such as sulfur dioxide, methane and carbon dioxide (greenhouse gasses) are emitted into the atmosphere at the power plant sites. The power plants are also associated with reservoirs that may contain heavy metals such as arsenic, boron, or mercury, all of which have their distinct environmental impacts.
  • Surface instabilities – Geothermal power plant may interfere with the stability of the land. It has been said to be the reason behind subsidence in New Zealand and Germany. Furthermore, hydraulic fracturing helps establish enhanced geothermal systems, but they could trigger earthquakes.
  • It is quite expensive – Exploration and drilling of reservoirs have steep price tags with equally higher upfront costs. Fortunately, they are long-term investments that can save lots of dollars years down the line.
  • Sustainability issues – The rate at which rainwater seeps through the crust and into the reservoirs is lower, and the resources can be depleted if extraction is faster than replacement.

Bottom line

Geothermal energy production is regarded as sustainable, reliable, and environmentally friendly. This makes it a no brainer in numerous locations, but the high upfront cost is one of the factors that hinder us from utilizing it to its full potential.

If you’d like to utilize your electricity to its full potential, give Penny Electric a call. We are a full-service commercial and residential electrician within the Las Vegas/Henderson community. Contact us today for a service quote.