New Mexico’s first geothermal plant is up and running.
The plant taps into a readily available heat source — geothermal energy — to produce up to four megawatts of energy, or enough to power over 4,000 homes. By next year, they hope to increase output to 10,000 megawatts.
How does it work? The more pressure something is under, the hotter it gets. Layers of the Earth’s crust get progressively warmer the deeper you go, and this difference in temperature can be used to heat water, which can then create the steam needed to generate electricity.
This process works not only works well for large-scale production like the New Mexico plant, but can also be successfully applied to individual homes. Even just six feet underground, the temperature differential can provide enough energy to provide hot water for an entire household, eliminating the need for a hot water heater.
How does geothermal compare to other renewable resources? While solar and wind energy have been getting a lot of press, they do have their limitations — namely, cloudy days or days without wind.
But the heat of the Earth never shuts off. Geothermal energy can be utilized 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without interruption. At just six feet below the surface, energy prospectors find an excellent source of heat, which radiates constantly between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
And the water sent through the underground pipes is not wasted. Once the heated water has done its job and dispersed its energy, it can be sent down again for reheating.
Is geothermal energy the reliable, renewable source we’ve been waiting for? At the very least, it may end up being a key component.
But the future of residential green energy may not come from only one source. A combination of solar, wind, and geothermal energy may be the perfect answer to home energy consumption. Government incentives exist for homeowners who “green” up their homes, and some areas actually allow owners who produce more energy than their home uses to sell that energy back to the grid, creating a more direct financial incentive.