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Some applications of geothermal energy use the Earth’s temperatures near the surface, while others require drilling miles into the Earth. The three main uses of geothermal energy are:
Direct use and district heating systems use hot water from springs or reservoirs near the surface.
Electricity generation power plants require water or steam at very high temperature (300° to 700°F). Geothermal power plants are generally built where geothermal reservoirs are located within a mile or two of the surface.
Geothermal heat pumps use stable ground or water temperatures near the Earth’s surface to control building temperatures above ground
There have been direct uses of hot water as an energy source since ancient times. Ancient Romans, Chinese, and Native American cultures used hot mineral springs for bathing, cooking, and heating. Today, many hot springs are still used for bathing, and many people believe the hot, mineral-rich waters have natural healing powers.
After bathing, the most common direct use of geothermal energy is for heating buildings throughdistrict heating systems. Hot water near the Earth’s surface can be piped directly into buildings and industries for heat. A district heating system provides heat for 95% of the buildings in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Industrial applications of geothermal energy include food dehydration, gold mining, and milk pasteurizing. Dehydration, or the drying of vegetable and fruit products, is the most common industrial use of geothermal energy.
The United States Is the Leader in Geothermal Power Generation
The United States leads the world in electricity generation with geothermal power. In 2011, U.S. geothermal power plants produced about 17 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), or 0.4% of total U.S. electricity generation. In 2011, five states had geothermal power plants:
California had 35 geothermal power plants, which produced 80% of U.S. geothermal electricity.
Nevada had 20 geothermal power plants, which produced 16% of U.S. geothermal electricity.
Utah had two plants, and Hawaii and Idaho each had one geothermal plant.
Geothermal Contributes Significant Share of Power Generation in Several Countries
Twenty four countries including the United States had geothermal power plants in 2010, which generated a total of about 63.9 billion kWh. The Philippines was the second largest geothermal power producer after the United States at 9.4 billion kWh, which equaled about 16% of the country’s total power generation. Iceland, the 7th largest producer at 4.3 billion KWh, produced 26% of its total electricity us