The question of geothermal energy’s cleanliness is a difficult one. While it is an entirely renewable energy source, geothermal energy is not quite as clean as other forms of renewable energy. However, while it may not be an immaculate process, geothermal energy’s level of cleanliness is still much higher than the use of fossil fuels.
Geothermal energy is created deep within the earth’s core. It was created during the earth’s origination and continues to be generated through the ongoing radioactive decay of the inner earth’s minerals and elements, shifting of tectonic plates, and the continuous striking of the earth’s surface with solar rays. The energy generated is immense as well as completely renewable.
The question of the cleanliness of a renewable energy is based on how it is captured and harnessed. Geothermal energy is harnessed through power plants, which themselves emit a certain amount of pollution. Most geothermal plants take steps to lower the amount of pollutants they emit.
While geothermal energy is being extracted, noxious gases and elements are released, such as carbon dioxide, mercury, and sulphur. When released into the atmosphere these extraction byproducts contribute to acid rain and global warming, which renewable energy is generally utilized to lessen. Greenhouse gases are also emitted. There is a case to be made against the use of geothermal energy because of these byproducts.
While there are pollutants involved with geothermal energy, they do release fewer emissions than when fossil fuels are burned for energy. This means that if geothermal energy was used instead of fossil fuels, a much smaller toll would be taken upon the environment. It has also been theorized that these emissions can be offset by injecting any fluids brought to the surface back into the earth. This is referred to as carbon capture and storage.
Hot water from geothermal sources may contain trace amounts of dangerous elements such as mercury, arsenic, and antimony. If this water is released into rivers or other bodies of water it can be extremely dangerous to humans and animals who may consume the contaminated liquid. The capture of these dangerous elements is an important aspect of geothermal energy management.
The site of a geothermal plant often also brings about negative issues. If the plant is too large for the site or if the site is overused, the site’s energy can be depleted. This means that the earth is damaged in that area. It is also possible that the neighboring land to the site can also be traumatized. This is especially common at sites where water is pumped into hot dry rock to create hot water.
While all of these things are negatives on the side of geothermal energy, other aspects must be taken into consideration as well. Geothermal energy can emit toxins, however it does not create nearly the amount of environmental damage that the use of non-renewable fossil fuels does. The overall environmental impact of the use of geothermal energy is much less than that of fossil fuels. With thoughtful management of the extraction and implementation of geothermal energy, this renewable energy source has the potential to contribute a significant amount of power for our growing energy needs.