1. Be Sustainable
  2. Energy

Advantages & Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy

geothermal energy power plant

Thermal energy is one of the most abundant energies in the Universe. Other than the Sun, the Earth produces the most reliable form of thermal energy for us. But unlike the Sun, thermal energy from the Earth is available at all times even at night. Geothermal energy has reliably been there for hundreds of millions of years & will exist for as long as the Earth does. Its just a matter of tapping into it. It can be right underneath the surface in places like Iceland, Hawaii & Italy or hundreds of meters beneath the surface depending on where you are.

Advantages of Geothermal Energy

  1. Renewable & Sustainable: Geothermal energy comes from Earth’s natural heat, which is continuously created with no effort on our part. This makes it a renewable & sustainable energy source.
  2. Low Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Compared to fossil fuel based power plants, geothermal power plants emit very low levels of greenhouse gases. They’re essentially releasing few existing gases trapped in rock rather than creating new ones.
  3. Baseload Power: Geothermal power plants provide a continuous & reliable source of electricity generation since they’re not dependent on weather conditions like solar or wind power.
  4. Minimal Land Use: Geothermal power plants typically require less land area compared to many other types of electricity generation facilities which preserves land use.
  5. Long Lifespan: Geothermal power plants can have a long operational lifespan. often exceeding half a century with very minimal maintenance requirements. This saves on operating costs in the long run. The two oldest geothermal power plants are still in operation today.
  6. Energy Security: Geothermal energy is created at the source with no resource importation required. This reduces dependence on imported fuels & materials which enhances energy security for countries with abundant geothermal resources. Theoretically, all countries could be energy independent if they drilled deep enough.
  7. Production of Additional Resources: Geothermal reservoirs often contain minerals & metals dissolved in the hot water. This enables the co-creation of valuable resources alongside electricity generation. Sulfur is in high abundance at geothermal sources & is used in a wide array of processes.
  8. Direct Heating Applications: Geothermal energy can be used for more than electricity generation. Direct heating for cities, homes, industrial & agricultural purposes is an additional revenue source.
  9. Reduced Water Consumption: Much of the water used in geothermal power plants is recycled & pumped back through. So they typically consume less water per unit of electricity generated compared to conventional fossil fuel power plants which actually conserves water resources.
  10. Potential for Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS): EGS technology aims to expand the geographical reach of geothermal energy by creating artificial geothermal reservoirs through hydraulic stimulation, potentially unlocking new possibilities.
  11. Existing Infrastructure, Technologies & Workforce: Much of the geological data, drilling technology, skills & workforce needed for geothermal energy power plants already exist from the oil industry. They’ve been surveying the Earth for decades & have all of this data stored. It a matter focusing the development, resources & exploring new areas based on existing data. The drilling methods are basically the same too.
  12. Tourism & New Business Revenue: Using Iceland as the perfect test case, their geothermal power plant in GrindavĂ­k creates spillover which created the Blue Lagoon. Probably the world’s most famous geothermal spa destination. This location alone brings in more that a billion in tourism a year. Additionally, there are numerous business & products that can be created from geothermal activity. Bakeries, skin care, greenhouses are just a few that can be created with low startup costs using the existing energy & earth materials in some cases.
  13. Reliable Power Stations for Electric Vehicles: Since the electricity being produced is around the clock this creates an additional source of energy for electric vehicles which will be needed in the future. It also makes the charging station easy to spot from kilometers away from the steam rising in the air (so long as geothermal power plants are also associated with charging stations).

Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy

  1. Former Location Dependency: Geothermal energy is typically feasible in regions with significant geothermal activity. This previously limited its widespread deployment to specific geographic areas but with new technology these limits may be removed entirely.
  2. High Initial Costs (but very low compared to nuclear): The upfront costs of drilling wells & building infrastructure for geothermal power plants can cost upwards of hundreds of millions. But the costs dwarf in comparison the cost of traditional nuclear energy power plants which are measured in billions of dollars. For example, the Hinkley Point in Somerset England is now costing $37 billion USD. Iceland’s Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant cost $380 million USD.
  3. Environmental Impact: While geothermal energy has lower emissions compared to fossil fuels, some environmental impacts can occur. Such as land subsidence, water pollution (if chemicals are used or overflow is not contained) & the release of trace gases like hydrogen sulfide. But with every form of power plant there is going to be an impact to some extent whether its solar, wind, nuclear, coal or even tidal energy. It comes down to the extent & limits of their impact. No energy production has zero impact.
  4. Geological Risks: Geothermal projects may face geological risks such as seismic activity from drilling. They’ve gotten much better at reducing this but nothing is 100% predictable. It may be possible with newer technologies that drilling can increase stabilization of the crust.
  5. Limited Scalability: Geothermal energy has significant potential. Its limited to what we can do with our current technologies. But the upside is there are new & exciting technology being applied to this space. Is sort of in the space that electric cars were in 20 years ago.
  6. Subsurface Challenges: Drilling & maintaining geothermal wells can be technically challenging & costly, especially in deep or complex geological formations. But many pioneers in this space have far more knowledge than we did just a few decades ago.
  7. Regulatory & Permitting Hurdles: Geothermal projects may encounter regulatory hurdles & permitting delays due to environmental, land use & water rights considerations. This adds complexity & uncertainty to the development process but this really isn’t different than any other power plant regulatory approvals.

Geothermal energy’s main disadvantage is the lack of time & investment put into it compared to other energy sources. If geothermal had the amount of investment put into it as nuclear, coal & gas have had over the past century much the world would be running on sustainable energy by now. The earth itself is a giant thermal nuclear plant that has had all of the waste material issues taken care of. All we have to do is make a way to reliably tap into it from anywhere. As I mentioned before, geothermal energy technology is in a similar challenging period that electric cars were in two decades ago.

Profound Possibilities of Geothermal Energy

geothermal energy power plant in lava field

The use of geothermal energy dates back thousands of years but we have probably been using it as long as there have been humans. We have both physical & recorded evidence of its use by ancient civilizations for bathing, heating & cooking. To this day some people in Iceland still use it to bake the worlds best tasting bread. Modern exploration of geothermal energy for electricity began in the late 19th & early 20th centuries. With coal & gas being used as main energy sources, geothermal energy took a back seat from the mainstream for over a century & still has.

old style geothermal valve

The world’s first geothermal power plant started in Larderello, Italy in 1911 & finished production in 1913, which utilized steam from natural hot springs to generate electricity. How geothermal power plants work at their most basic level is the same today as was over 110+ years ago, utilizing steam to turn turbines. In the 1950’s a museum was built to showcase the history, science & engineering of geothermal energy at this location.

Since then, we’ve had many ongoing advancements in drilling technology, reservoir engineering & power plant design. We’ve also expanded the utilization of geothermal energy for direct heating applications worldwide. While not used for electricity, this shallow depth method of utilizing geothermal heat for home heating can significantly reduce the amount of electricity needed for heating purposes with cold climates. But there is something with much bigger potential just beyond where we are with geothermal technology.

Once we’ve developed a technology where we can reliably & efficiently drill holes from anywhere on the Earth’s surface & keep the structure of the Earth’s crust stable we will have truly unlimited sustainable energy. The research & development into this technology would be at the top of the priority list if people truly understood how profound this would be. Not only would this allow humans anywhere on Earth to have clean energy & heat day or night but allow humans on any planet to have clean energy. When we colonize Mars this is technology we could take with us. Theoretically, this is technology that robots can be programmed to build. So before humans even get to other planets geothermal power stations can be setup & put into production.

Bringing this back down to Earth, yes its important to explore sustainable energies that don’t yet exist like cold fusion. That is technology people have been working on for almost 30 years now with no definitive results yet. While it only requires 5-10 years (sometimes less) to build a single geothermal power plant & we already know how to build those. Meaning that multiple plants can be built simultaneously around the Earth. Each one producing electricity for a more than a century. Right now, I think geothermal energy is greatly undervalued, underutilized & we have yet to do things we never thought possible with geothermal technology.

Jacob Haust

With a passion for design, electric vehicles, engineering and the environment, Jacob is combining his interests to help make the world a more sustainable place for generations to come. He went to University for Industrial Design where he understood materials, processes and manufacturing. This is a key part as a designer in order to understand what can and can't be done when manufacturing with certain materials and what materials to choose when designing for specific applications. So he has a fairly deep understanding of materials used in everyday products and the processes used to make them. As a kid he also lived in Iceland for years where he toured geothermal power plants and gained an appreciation for the engineering and sustainability of this energy source.

jacob haust


All emails remain private. Required fields are marked *


Newsletter for the Global Sustainable Community

Join us in helping to make the world a more sustainable place future for generations to come. We rarely send out emails but when we do, they have special offers, news or coupons for our subscribers.