Geothermal Energy for Kids

Almost all of the energy we use on this planet comes from the burning of the fossil fuels coal and oil. Burning fossil fuels releases a lot of pollution into our environment, including dangerous greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Using fossil fuels for our energy is also bad because coal and oil are nonrenewable resources, meaning that they cannot be replaced once we use them up. Our supplies of these fossil fuels are running out very quickly and we are in danger of having no power unless we start using alternative energy sources. Scientists are studying many different types of clean energies to meet our needs without hurting our environment. One of these clean energy sources is geothermal energy. But what is geothermal energy?

The word geothermal is made from two Greek words: geo (earth) and thermos (heat). Geothermal energy is exactly what it sounds like…energy that comes from the earth’s heat. Geothermal energy can be used in many different ways and is a clean, renewable source of energy that does not harm our environment. Can we tap into the heat energy of our planet for all of our energy needs? Is it possible that geothermal energy can take the place of the fossil fuels we are using for most of our energy needs? Scientists around the world are working to answer these questions.

How Geothermal Energy Works

Geothermal slinky loop weighing 3 tons. Image by Marktj.

Geothermal slinky loop weighing 3 tons. Image by Marktj.

Since the middle of the Earth is molten rock, it is very, very hot. Much of this heat is trapped beneath the Earth’s crust as hot water or steam and superheated rocks keep it from cooling. Geothermal energy plants tap into this heat in its various forms and use it to turn turbines and generate electricity. There are different types of geothermal energy plants that use the earth’s heat for energy.

One type of plant taps into pockets of super hot dry steam. The steam travels up pipes and spins turbines to make electricity. Another type pumps in the superheated water and spray it into tanks where it flashes into steam before it is released into the turbines. Yet another kind of geothermal plant has a system of underground pipes that pass through very hot sections of rock. Cold water is pumped into the pipes and steam comes out the other end. This steam is used to generate electricity.

Benefits of Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is a great alternative energy source because it does not produce pollution of any kind and there is no danger of pollution being created from the parts used in the geothermal plant. The kinds of plants that have to be built to use geothermal energy are also very small compared to other kinds of electricity producing plants. This means they don’t take up much land and cause a minimum amount of damage to ecosystems and plant and animal life.

Cost is another great reason we should use this type of energy. It costs very little to make electricity from the earth’s trapped heat, so the electricity produced in geothermal plants is cheaper than many other kinds of energy. The geothermal power plants are also much cheaper to build than most other kinds of power plants, which makes it easier for people to build them in a large number of areas.

Drawbacks of Geothermal Energy

With our current technology, there are no completely perfect forms of energy. This is why scientists keep researching newer and better ways of using all of the different types of alternative energy sources. Geothermal energy is a great clean energy source but it is not perfect and will probably never be used as the only source of energy for our planet.

The biggest problem is that geothermal energy is not available in all locations. While there are areas all over the world that have the ability to produce geothermal energy, it is not possible to get the power from those locations to every person in the world. In the United States, all of the possible sites for geothermal energy are located in the western part of the country. In those areas, there are working geothermal plants that are currently producing electricity for people in the nearby areas.

Diagram showing the origin and methods of use of geothermal energy.

Diagram showing the origin and methods of use of geothermal energy.

Finding the right location can be tricky, too. Just because there is a pocket of heat under a part of the Earth’s crust does not mean that it will be a good producer of energy. It can be impossible to predict how much energy a certain area will produce. Many of these areas also don’t contain the right kind of rock. Without the right rock, it can be difficult, expensive, or even impossible to drill holes and install the pipes that are needed to trap the heat and change it into electricity. There is also the problem of releasing trapped gases from beneath the Earth’s surface that can be just as dangerous as the greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. Scientists have to find safe ways to capture and get rid of those gases to make geothermal energy completely safe.

A final, and pretty serious, problem with using geothermal energy is the fact that even the best areas of trapped heat might not produce energy dependably. Some of these areas may go cold and stay that way for a very long time before they start working again. If that were to happen in an area that depended only on geothermal energy, people could be without electricity for a long time.

Geothermal energy is just one of the many promising alternative energy sources that we should keep exploring to meet the needs of our planet. Even though it is not perfect, it is a very good way to get energy and, if used along with other clean energy sources, can help us stop using fossil fuels and make our planet cleaner and safer to live on. As scientists continue to learn better ways of finding the best geothermal areas and using the trapped energy, this type of energy will become more available and will be used by more of the world’s people.



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