What is Geothermal?
Geothermal energy is produced with the heat from the interior of the Earth. Geothermal is a renewable energy source because the Earth continuously produces heat from the slow decay of radioactive minerals found in the rocks and fluid of the Earth’s crust, mantle, and core.
Geothermal resources are classified according to their temperatures, determined by the depth in the Earth’s crust, as:
- Low Temperature: less than 194ºF
- Moderate Temperature: 194 – 302ºF
- High Temperature: greater than 302ºF
Most high temperature resources are only used for generating electricity. The United States currently generates as much geothermal electric power as could be produced by 4 large nuclear power plants, about 2,200 megawatts. Moderate and low temperature geothermal production is used in 2 ways. Direct uses the high temperature of water close to the Earth’s surface to directly heat buildings.
The United States currently generates enough direct use geothermal energy to heat 40,000 homes. Ground Source Heat Pumps take heat from the ground into the building during the winter and away from the building into the soil or water in the summer. The US ranks first in the world in geothermal production. This energy source makes up .4% of all US electricity generation.
Nevada has 16 geothermal plants producing a total of approximately 400 megawatts. According to the Geothermal Energy Association, if Nevada was a country it would be the ninth-largest producer of geothermal energy in the world. With 86 projects in the works that could potentially boost capacity anywhere from an extra 2,120 megawatts to 3,686 megawatts, enough power for 800,000 homes. Nevada is now is No. 1 in the nation for geothermal capacity under development.
Why is Geothermal Important?
- Environment – Direct use geothermal production has zero environmental impact and overall, geothermal plants produce less than 1% of the CO2 emissions of a fossil fuel plant.
- Reliability - The Earth is continually producing heat for geothermal capture; geothermal energy is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
- Safety – Increases our energy independence
- Economic – Geothermal energy is usually cheaper than coal or natural gas energy and creates power 24 hours a day.