Basically, geothermal energy is warmth or energy that comes from the earth. That being said, it is safe to say that geothermal technology has been present since prehistoric times when the ancient people made use of hot molten lava to heat their hot tubs. There are several documented evidences that prove our ancestors took advantage of geothermal energy for their hot spring baths and heating their homes. In today’s modern world, more and more people are using the earth’s warmth as a sustainable resource for heating homes and providing electricity. With the government and the community’s goal to “Go Green”, the future of geothermal technology is looking brighter each day. To understand more about geothermal energy, check out a brief history below.
1800 – 1900: Taking Advantage of the Earth’s Natural Resources
In the early 1800’s, European settlers made use of geothermal springs to determine where they would settle as they moved across the continent. Since there was not enough information as to what these springs are, some of the settlers would often refer to these areas as a portal that leads straight to hell. Despite that, the springs have served to be a warm relief for the weary travelers. In fact, the Hot Springs in Arkansas has been put to commercial use by asking settlers to pay $1 for each use of the spring.
Another area of hot springs was also developed into a spa and hotel in 1850. This place has accommodated guests such as Mark Twain, U.S. Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt. As the years progress, more and more people built their homes around springs so they can take advantage of the heat coming from the geothermal springs. It was in the late 1890’s when water from the hot springs were piped directly to people’s homes in Boise, Idaho. It was the very first district to have a heating system.
1900 – 1950: Geothermal Power for the Masses
It was in the early 1900’s when geothermal energy was utilized for more large scale projects. The very first geothermal power plant was invented by a local businessman named Prince Piero Ginori Conti. This was completed in 1902 in Italy. After 20 years, the United States also established their very first geothermal power plant when John D. Grant was able to successfully generate electricity from a well. This discovery in 1922 has allowed Grant to create several power plants run by steam. However, since the electricity produced was only 250 kilowatts, it wasn’t enough to supply power to the buildings and the streets so the plants were eventually shut down.
The first commercial geothermal greenhouse was set up in 1930. Around this time, a resident was credited with using the first downhole heat exchanger (DHE) to keep his home warm. This DHE is drilled deep into the earth and draws out heat that the home can use. There are more than 500 of this technology used today. In 1948, Robert C. Webber, a professor at Ohio State, invented the very first ground source heat pump that can be used for a residential setting. It was also during that same year when the use of groundwater heat pump was first commercialized in Oregon.
1950 – 2000: Geothermal Technology for Even More Large Scale Operations
The growing interest in geothermal technology has made yet another leap in the 1960’s when Pacific Gas and Electric created a turbine that generated a net power of 11 megawatts which eventually run for more than 30 years. To encourage people to embrace this technology, a council was formed in 1970 and the Geothermal Steam Act was later on unveiled to allow the government to lease public land for geothermal exploration and development. During the late ‘70s, a crop-drying plant and a hot dry rock plant were the first to use geothermal energy which eventually generated electricity in 1980.
In 1989, heat and methane generated from a geopressured resource were used to develop a hybrid plant. In 1994, there were two proposals passed by the council that encouraged consumers from either large companies or private industries to utilize the energy from the earth for power generation.
2000 – 2010: Awareness and Information Dissemination
While geothermal technology may still be new to some, there are already several methods that are created to make use of the earth’s surface as a natural resource. There are still a lot to learn when it comes to the benefits of geothermal energy. The early part of year 2000 was used to inform, entice, and encourage residents and companies to include geothermal technology in their lifestyle. Several groups were also formed to educate more people about the importance of geothermal energy and some incentives were even created to sway people to go geothermal. It is also during this phase when energy policies were updated and changed to offer grants and loans to companies that guarantee the use of geothermal technology.
2011 – 2014: Reaping What Was Sown
Although there aren’t a lot of new updates about geothermal technologies in the past 10 years, efforts made during the past years have made a significant increase in the use of geothermal technology across North America. The production of geothermal capacity is already at an all-time high and more and more research grants have successfully generated power from either new or even abandoned areas. For instance, the Enhanced Geothermal Systems project was able to generate a steam production of 5 megawatts in a deserted area of the Geysers. It is said that steam sources can generate up to 100 GW of power as the years progress.
The Future of Geothermal
As all the details of geothermal energy are fine-tuned, the future of geothermal is promising. The government and those who have worked day in and day out to enhance this technology are looking forward to more people embracing the idea of and utilizing geothermal resources into their maximum potential. The more we harness heat and steam from the earth’s core, the lesser the load on grids. Soon enough, geothermal technology will be more affordable for every consumer and more government grants will be drafted to attract citizens to take advantage of this technology. As geothermal future progresses, utility bills are sure to drop while we increase our effort to protect the world we live in.