How Does Geothermal Energy Work?

The Many Advantages of Geothermal Energy

How does geothermal energy work to heat and cool residential and commercial buildings? It's really quite amazing! Our beautiful Earth may have quite a varied climate above the surface, but underground it maintains a steady, constant temperature.


natural geyser to illustrate how does geothermal energy work

This constant temperature is the key to how geothermal energy works, and it is for this reason that geothermal energy can be used to heat and cool buildings such as homes, schools, and offices efficiently anywhere in the world.

In a nutshell, geothermal energy is basically the "heat from the Earth" that is clean, abundant, and one of the most reliable sources of renewable energy.

The heat inside the Earth does not fluctuate and isn't contained in any one specific geographic location, so geothermal energy is constantly available to us and can be used literally everywhere in the world!

Geothermal Energy in Nature

Have you ever seen a natural hot spring or a geyser? These are natural and obvious examples of geothermal energy. Hot springs and geysers are often used as sources for geothermal energy.

If you've ever dipped your toes into a natural hot spring, it's really quite am incredible experience. The water is clean and pure and many people have experienced a healing effect from the experience. Now imagine using this same energy source to heat and cool your home! :-)

What is a Geothermal Heatpump?

A geothermal heatpump is also called a ground source heat pump or GSHP, and it is basically a central heating or cooling system that uses the naturally stable temperatures from within the Earth to provide heating and cooling for homes.

Geothermal systems can boost the energy efficiency of other types of heating and cooling systems, and they work well with solar energy systems. A combined solar and geothermal system is called a geosolar system or a solar combisystem.

How Does Geothermal Energy Work to
Heat or Cool Your Home?

In order for geothermal heat pumps to work, a set of looping pipes is buried in the ground next to the building you want to heat and cool. Those pipes are connected to the geothermal heat pump, which is installed inside the building.

To heat the building, water or another liquid circulates through the pipes, transferring the heat of the Earth into the building, providing heat.

The opposite is true for cooling the building. The heat inside the building is transferred out of the building via the liquid circulating through the pipes and back through the loop.

Some systems are installed so that this "extra" heat can be used to heat the water inside the building (for free!), providing even more benefits for the inhabitants.

Advantages of Geothermal Energy

In order to fully answer the question, "how does geothermal energy work", it's important to point out the benefits or advantages of this type of renewable energy source.

  • Clean, renewable energy source

  • Environmentally friendly

  • Inexpensive to use

  • No requirement for fractured rock and water in order to install

  • Geothermal heat pumps are one of the most efficient cooling and heating systems that can be used to heat and cool buildings of all sizes and types

  • The geothermal heatpump system and the pipes can be installed in many different areas around the building, so it's a relatively flexible system with which to work

  • Geothermal heatpumps simply collect and deliver the heat, the do not need to produce it

  • Saves anywhere from 30% to 60% on electricity costs associated with heating and cooling

How Does Geothermal Energy Work Residentially and Commercially?

There are approximately 300,000 buildings in the United States alone that utilize the efficient and clean energy produced by geothermal heat pump systems. Worldwide, there are approximately an additional 100,000 buildings that use geothermal heating systems.

Geothermal energy can be used not only to heat and cool residential homes and commercial buildings with a single (or multiple) geothermal heat pump system, there are many other uses for geothermal heat. Direct uses include:

  • Heating fish farms

  • Heating spas

  • Heating greenhouses

  • Fish drying process

  • De-ice roads

  • Heating and cooling of resorts

  • Improving oil recovery in some areas of the world

  • Hot tap water

Geothermal energy is truly a limitless heat source and can be tapped anywhere in the world, and even better, it can be combined with other types of renewable energy.

Why wouldn't we use it to heat and cool all of our homes, office buildings, commercial warehouses, and schools? The use of this renewable energy source makes sense environmentally and financially!


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