Geothermal Energy History

Geothermal energy history is quite fascinating when you consider the time period during which geothermal energy was discovered and the basic manner in which it was utilized compared to the way we use it today.

The concepts of geothermal heating and cooling are quite similar, but the advances in technology over the years have provided a means of renewable energy to heat and cool commercial buildings and residential dwellings along with heating water, processing food, and much more.

Timeline of Geothermal Energy History

This is not a comprehensive timeline, but will cover the highlights of geothermal energy discovery and use.

It's estimated by historians that the earliest use of geothermal hot springs was in the Paleolithic times. People probably used the hot springs for bathing.

3rd century BC - a record of the first known spa located in China, located on Lisan Mountain

First century AD - Bath, Somerset England - the Romans had conquered this city and proceeded to charge admission for use of the hot springs - first record of geothermal energy utilized for heating the floor from underneath and money being made on geothermal energy

14th century - Chaudes-Aigues, France holds the historic record of operating the earliest known geothermal heating system in the world

1807 - John Colter, a European, discovers hot springs in Yellowstone - area dubbed Colter's Hell

1827 - Larderello, Italy - the first industrial use of geothermal energy to produce electricity

1847 - the area just north of San Francisco, now known as The Geysers, discovered by William Bell Elliot

1852 - Lord Kelvin of Belfast, Ireland creates/discovers the theory behind the first geothermal heat pump

1855 - the first actual geothermal heat pump is designed and built by Peter Ritter von Rittinger using Lord Kelvin's theory

1892 - Boise, Idaho - first time that geothermal-generated heat was piped from the hot springs into commercial city buildings - by 1894, the system heated 40 businesses and nearly 200 residential dwellings

1904 - the first geothermal power generator lit 4 light bulbs - tested by Prince Piero Ginori Conti in Larderello, Italy

1911 - Larderello, Italy - home of the first commercial geothermal power plant in the world

1921 - the first geothermal power plant in the United States is operating at The Geysers in California - unfortunately, it couldn't generate sufficient power to stay competitive, so it wasn't used for several years

1946 - first commercial geothermal heatpump was designed by J. Donald Kroeker - that very heatpump serviced the Commonwealth Building in Oregon

Late 1940s - first direct exchange ground source heat pump was designed and built by Robert C. Webber

1960 - this time the geothermal electric power plant at The Geysers was successful - operated by Pacific Gas and Electric

1970s - geothermal energy becomes popular in Sweden

1972 - Geothermal Energy Association is birthed

1995 - first food-dehydration facility built and operated by Integrated Ingredients in Empire, Nevada - produces 15 million pounds of dried garlic and onions each year

2004 - marks the historic use of one million geothermal energy units in operation across the world

2006 - the United States' geothermal energy industry is generating $1.5 billion each year - includes profits from heating and cooling commercial and residential buildings, food drying, heating water, greenhouse applications, and aquaculture

Current Day - the United States leads the world in geothermal energy use for use in schools, office buildings, factories, residential dwellings, greenhouses, and much more

Did You Know? Some More Interesting Geothermal Energy History Tidbits...

  • Native Americans have been associated with all major hot springs in the U.S.

  • Hot springs were considered neutral areas for nations at war with each other - they could bathe in these areas without fear of retaliation

  • Hot springs are considered by some to hold natural healing properties

  • The Paleo-Indians utilized geothermal energy in the form of hot springs for cooking and also for bathing and relaxing

Geothermal Energy History - What Does the Future Hold?

Today, geothermal energy is utilized in some fashion in each of the 50 United States. It's used in spas across the states, for heating and cooling buildings and homes, and for some agricultural and industrial purposes. There are engineers currently working on technology that could someday allow us to drill nearly 10 miles below the Earth's surface in order to tap new geothermal heat sources.

Sweden is hot on the United States' heels for developing applications for and utilizing geothermal energy. There are at least 19 other countries in addition to Sweden and the United States who utilize geothermal energy for heating and cooling purposes.

The future outlook for geothermal energy is very bright! As we look at the geothermal energy history timeline, it's clear that advances are continuously being made in this field and will likely continue to be such given that it's a renewable and clean energy source.


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