Geothermal energy is an enormous, underused heat and power resource that is emits very little greenhouse gas, provides reliable energy, and is fully homegrown, helping to make us less dependent on foreign oil.

Geothermal resources range from shallow ground to hot water and rock several miles below the Earth's surface, and even farther down to the extremely hot molten rock called magma. In some places—most famously Yellowstone National Park—geothermal activity occurs at the earth’s crust, and the ability to tap these sources for utility-scale power is viable. But almost everywhere, the upper 10 feet of Earth's surface maintains a nearly constant temperature between 50 and 60°F, making residential and commercial-scale geothermal a possibility for anyone.

Geothermal heat pumps produce energy savings of up to 40% while using energy that is 70% clean.

Geothermal Power Plants are built on technologies that drill into rock up to 5 kilometers deep, creating reservoirs for water to be heated by the activity in the rock. This activity is widespread around the United States but is most viable in the West. The installed domestic capacity of geothermal power plants is nearly 3,000 megawatts in five western states. These power plants use hot water and steam from hydrothermal reservoirs as their energy source. DOE estimates there are prodigious amounts of heat at depths from 3 to 10 km, and cites it as a key resource for future energy production.

Geothermal heat pumps leverage the consistent temperature of shallow ground to provide heating and cooling for an adjacent structure. These are built on a simple system of looped coils filled with fluid that help to transit heat to and from a heat pump that regulates indoor temperature.

How it Works 

A geothermal heat pump system consists of pipes buried in the shallow ground near the building, a heat exchanger, and ductwork into the building. In winter, heat from the relatively warmer ground goes through the heat exchanger into the house. In summer, hot air from the house is pulled through the heat exchanger into the relatively cooler ground. Heat removed during the summer can be used as no-cost energy to heat water.

They may be used in combination with solar photovoltaic systems to form geosolar systems, further reducing the electricity demand of a household.

Geothermal Energy in Texas 

Geothermal resources are everywhere in Texas and are just waiting to be tapped. This source of energy has been used in some areas for over 50 years. Geothermal energy can be used to generate significant amounts of electricity from many oil and gas wells. In another geothermal application, using the constant temperature of the Earth’s surface for cooling and heating in buildings can reduce energy use by up to 50 percent.

Geothermal energy consists of the natural, internal heat trapped within the rock and fluid found within the Earth. Geothermal energy is not dependent upon cyclical forces, as wind and solar energy are, but is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and, as such, can be considered a “baseload” energy technology. There are a number of promising geothermal applications in Texas.

Geothermal energy can be divided into electric and non-electric applications. One of the simplest non-electric ways to use geothermal energy is through a geothermal heat pump, which can work anywhere and represents the lowest cost application of the geothermal resource. Studies have shown that 70 percent of the energy used by a geothermal heat pump is renewable energy from the ground; the remaining 30 percent is electrical energy used to concentrate and transport the geothermal energy. More than 10,000 residential geothermal heat pumps have been installed in Texas. These systems cost approximately $3,000 to $5,000 per ton of cooling, compared to $2,000 to $2,500 for conventional HVAC systems. School districts and commercial buildings are increasingly utilizing geothermal energy. Over 160 schools in Texas have installed geothermal HVAC systems.

There are a number of other promising geothermal applications in Texas. Geothermal energy manifests itself in four distinct forms: 1) hydrothermal resources (hot steam or water), 2) geopressured-geothermal energy, 3) hot dry rock, and 4) magma. Space heating represents the largest potential use of low temperature (120° to 170°F) hydrothermal energy in Texas. Geothermal heat in the low to moderate temperature range can be extracted from subsurface hot water and used in various industrial and commercial processes, including district and space heating, greenhouses, and aquaculture facilities. Many hydrothermal resources, with low grade heat suitable for such applications, are distributed through Central Texas and the Trans-Pecos region.

Geothermal electric power can be generated using geothermal and geopressure fluids with temperatures of 200°F and higher. Temperatures in this range correlate with some of the oil and gas production in Texas, especially the East and South Texas fields. The most efficient way to develop this aspect is through coproduction of fluids. Other direct uses of the geothermal resource are enhanced oil recovery in south Texas, desalination, agriculture/aquaculture projects, and supercritical fluid processing for water and remediation. The geopressured-geothermal resources located along the Texas Gulf Coast provide higher temperatures, but are much deeper and more expensive to exploit and, therefore, may be most valuable for electric power production.

Issues related to hydrothermal and geopressure development include water availability, extraction, and disposal. The economics associated with utilizing high temperature geothermal resources depend on: 1) the quality of resource, principally its temperature, depth, and fluid characteristics; and 2) the ease and rate with which geofluids can be extracted and disposed of. The price of electricity will be important in determining whether geothermal electricity production in Texas remains economical until it becomes routine for oil and gas wells with fluid temperatures of over 200*F to be converted to geothermal energy production rather than simply plugged and abandoned. For increased applications of geothermal heat pumps and direct use, education and marketing will be important for giving potential users the knowledge that this resource even exists.

Augmenting power consumption with wind power would reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.

  • Studies show that approximately 70 percent of the energy used in a geothermal heat pump system is renewable energy from the ground.

Geothermal heat pumps can dramatically reduce Texas’s energy costs

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that geothermal heat pumps can lower energy bills by 30-40%.

Increased demand for geothermal system will create new jobs for Texas

  • Geothermal installations require professionals to help design and install the system, as well as contractors who can do the labor required to install the loops and the pump equipment. It can also create new business opportunities for HVAC companies.
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