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The Reliability of Renewable Energy: Geothermal

December 4, 2015
By Jordan Lofthouse, Randy T Simmons, Ryan M. Yonk

Geothermal energy can meet electricity demands consistently and it is more environmentally friendly than traditional fossil fuels.

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Geothermal energy can meet electricity demands consistently and it is more environmentally friendly than traditional fossil fuels. Geothermal power plants are reliable because they can produce electricity without interruption and adjust output as electricity demands fluctuate.  However, geothermal power production, is geographically constrained because only certain locations have viable geothermal reservoirs.

 
From an environmental perspective, geothermal energy has fewer environmental impacts than fossil fuels, but it still has some environmental drawbacks. Geothermal fluids contain toxic chemicals that can pose a danger to water sources if not contained properly, and the extraction of geothermal fluids from reservoirs can produce emissions of nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide, but these emissions are minimal compared to the emissions produced by fossil fuels. In addition, geothermal energy can also induce, generally small, seismic events. 

Despite geothermal power's physical and environmental benefits, the largest barriers to its development continue to be its high capital costs and financial riskiness. Much of the geothermal industry’s growth relies on government subsidies to help overcome these barriers. Ongoing improvements in geothermal drilling and exploration technology may help the geothermal industry become  financially independent.