Power plants are designed to convert heat to electricity, whether they are fueled by gas, nuclear power, coal, or geothermal energy. In the case of geothermal energy, the earth’s heat is accessed by drilling steam or water wells (‘geo’ means ‘earth’ and ‘thermal’ means ‘heat’). This process is quite similar to oil drilling.
Geothermal power plants are quite similar to traditional power-generating stations. Many of the same components are used, like transformers, generators, turbines, and various other equipment for generating electricity. There are various types of geothermal power plants, but the underlying concept is the same for all of them, much like for nuclear power plants, for example.
Geothermal energy power plants provide a promising future. There is a huge amount of geothermal energy available in the United States, and water and steam reservoirs cover only a small bit of the all the geothermal resources available. Hot dry rocks and the earth’s magma will provide clean, cheap, and virtually unlimited supply of energy, as soon as the technology to convert is properly developed.
However, before this happens and geothermal energy becomes a key component in the energy infrastructure of the United States, it has to be competitive in terms of costs with traditional energy forms. This should not be difficult to accomplish, since the U.S. geothermal activity is very high and deserves consideration. In 2010, 77 geothermal power plants in the U.S. have generated 3,086 megawatts of installed capacity, making it a world leader in geothermal electricity production.
The Geysers, which is California’s largest geothermal field, is the location of the largest cluster of geothermal energy power plants worldwide. An average of 15 billion kilowatt hours of geothermal electricity is generated by the United States annually, compared to burning 25 million barrels of oil annually, or burning 6 million tons of coal. The western states hold the largest concentration of geothermal power plants, which are currently the fourth larges renewable energy source after hydroelectric, wind energy, and biomass. Geothermal resource assessments that have been recently conducted show that the nine western states put together could potentially supply more than 20 percent of the total electricity needs of the country.
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