Geothermal energy is available in abundance, though accessing it comes with challenges. As a renewable source of energy, geothermal energy is non-polluting and is generated under the Earth’s surface.
Below the surface of our planet, heat is being generated. We can dig down to deeper ground, finding warmer soil and heated water far below the land that we walk on. With the right equipment, geothermal energy can be harnessed and used.
This involves digging deep underground, down to where temperatures stay constant and predictable.
Keep reading to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of geothermal energy.
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Geothermal energy comes from the ground beneath your feet. The Earth’s surface is subject to dramatic fluctuations of temperature. In winter, snow and frost can harden the ground with solid ice crystals. In summer, the ground is heated by the sun and often dries to the point of cracking. Dig deep enough, though, and you’ll find Earth that’s immune to what happens on the surface.
Roughly 6 metres below the surface of our planet, the Earth remains a near-constant temperature. It’s approximately 9°C. The temperature at that level can be used to our benefit here on the surface.
Geothermal equipment includes heat pumps, which take the air from below the Earth’s surface and can distribute it to our homes. In summer this air is considerably cooler than the warm air outside, so it can be used like air conditioning as a way to cool your home. In winter, when temperatures may be sub-zero, this warm air can be used to your advantage.
Geothermal systems have a looped system, with liquid flowing through the pipes. During the summer, as the colder water enters your house, it pulls some of your home’s warmth away. In the winter, the warmth can raise the interior temperature.
Geothermal energy use has a lot more potential in places where underground temperatures are higher – such as near volcanoes. That doesn’t mean that the UK doesn’t have a need for it as an energy source.
The government discussed geothermal energy in 2018 and has committed £300 million to exploring how we can better use it to create heat networks. It’s believed that it may be a relatively straightforward process thanks to the legacy of coal mining – old shafts have filled with water which is now heated. Ironically, the use of coal may actually lead to more efficient, greener sources of energy.
Geothermal energy is clean and non-polluting, using Earth’s natural resources. Once it’s in place, it takes up very little space on the surface. You don’t need any extra fuel for the system, so once it’s in place, it’ll simply keep working on its own.
Since temperatures stay stable, you’ll benefit from predictability. Solar energy can’t be generated overnight and is limited on overcast days. Wind energy is equally unpredictable. Geothermal energy can always be used in the exact same way, with no fluctuations or times when it isn’t available.
Geothermal heat pumps are like affordable air conditioning systems. They’ll bring colder air in through the summer, then take the warm air from your property. Instead of paying to keep your AC running, which can be very expensive and isn’t environmentally friendly, you can relax whilst your geothermal heat pump does the work without using power.
To install a geothermal system, you’ll need to do a lot of digging. They can be installed horizontally or vertically, though either way requires a lot of space. To get a geothermal system in place, it’s very likely that you’ll need to dig up your whole garden.
You’ll need to hope that your geothermal system doesn’t require any maintenance. Finding a leak, and repairing it, means digging all over again.
Installing geothermal heat pumps is a massive project, and such a system doesn’t come cheap. As a result, it’s a system just for the largest of homes. You need a lot of lands to make installation successful, and a big house to make it worthwhile.
There’s a large investment – roughly £30,000 – to cut your household heating bills in half. For many people, from a domestic point of view, this option simply isn’t worth it. Geothermal heat pumps work best when they’re working for several different properties, like on a residential estate or through commercial buildings.
The life expectancy of a heat pump is around 15 years. For many people, this will mean that it isn’t financially viable.
These are systems designed to save money when they’re used for large buildings and won’t be an option for most people in average-sized domestic properties. If your house is very large, with high heating bills, then a geothermal heat pump could halve your household heating bills for at least a decade and a half.
Some modern geothermal energy systems will last a bit longer. Technology improvements have improved their lifespan and efficiency. Still, to avoid disappointment, it’s best to assume that your geothermal system will need replacing after 15 years. Fortunately, you won’t need to replace all the underground pipes. Your heat pump is the only piece of equipment that you’ll need to invest in again.
Geothermal energy, itself, is reliable. The temperature below the ground stays incredibly consistent, so if something’s going wrong with your geothermal heat pump, then something else will be the problem. Equipment closer to the surface can still freeze in winter, so this could be a cause of common issues.
If you use geothermal energy at home, you’ll also need to keep up with maintenance. Air filters must be replaced at intervals, with equipment kept clean and looked after. You must also make sure that plants don’t grow too close to the outdoor units, as these can block the airflow and cause damage.
As a clean source of renewable energy, a geothermal heat pump is certainly better than gas or electricity from the National Grid. It’s an improvement on using fossil fuels, which means that it’s better for the planet. Unfortunately, the installation of a geothermal energy system will temporarily disrupt the surrounding environment.
To install your geothermal energy system, it’s very likely that you’ll need to dig up your garden. This might involve disturbing animals, removing plants and damaging habitats. Fortunately, once everything’s in place, you can work to repair the damage done.
A vast majority of the system is below the ground’s surface, so you can return to maintaining your garden above all the underground pipes. Just be careful not to plant any trees with roots that could damage the system!
Once your geothermal system is in place, it should hopefully require little maintenance. This means that you can add flowers, and get back to gardening, without disturbing the pipes beneath your feet.
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