Clean, Eco Friendly. The future is under your feet!

27 November 2007

Those who support it see geothermal energy as a near-perfect source of clean energy with virtually no carbon emissions. The resource is abundant, renewable and environment friendly. Still, geothermal energy has its own unknowns and limitations. Experts say that within the next decade, Colorado in the USA is likely to become the site of electric power plants that use geothermal steam, effectively harnessing the energy of underground water which gets its heat from the earths core.

But like other renewable-energy sources such as wind and solar, geothermal has limitations that leave it short of becoming a clean-energy panacea. Mapping the resource completely requires expensive drilling tests and time-consuming analysis. In addition, developers would need to link prospective plants with high- voltage transmission lines – Costs are high compared to traditional power plants. Experts put the average cost of building geothermal power plants at about £2 million per megawatt. That's more than twice the cost of the estimated £820,000 per megawatt to build a 750-megawatt coal-fired plant

However whilst corporates and governments might well look into harnessing the energy provided by the hot springs underground homeowners and businesses are already taking advantage of "geo-exchange" systems that use the soil's constant year-round temperature to cool buildings in the summer and heat them in the winter. Geo-exchange is based on a loop of pipes buried a few feet underground, filled with a solution of water and antifreeze. After circulating below the surface, the fluid is sent through a heat exchanger to deliver either warm or cool air. The residential systems carry typical costs of £7,000 to £20,000, making them relatively expensive to install when compared with conventional heating and cooling but the running costs thereafter are exceedingly low. Whilst a typical family home in UK may cost between £500 and £750 to heat per year, the geo-exchange home would cost , well, a few pounds! If fossil-fuel prices rise – geo-exchange becomes cost-effective and will more than pay for itself after only 7 to 10 years. I actually came across one of these domestic systems myself whilst living in France. It had been installed by an English ex pat. His costs were £14,000 to install a complete central heating, hot water and air con system and the cost to enjoy unlimited use of the system to heat or cool his large detached country home and heat his large outdoor pool……? - 400 Euros a year (less than £300.00 at today’s rates) -Less than 25% of what it had cost him prior to installing the system.

 

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