In light of the inevitable impact and use of energy, it is important to consider the environmental benefits of geothermal energy, especially when compared to more common energy sources such as fossil fuels. In highlighting some of the most important environmental benefits of geothermal energy, the lists below support the expanded development of geothermal power production.
Geothermal energy is reliable. Because geothermal resources are available 24 hours a day regardless of changing weather, geothermal energy is as reliable as any fossil fuel facility. Geothermal is a renewable energy technology that can offer baseload or intermediate power, is dispatchable, and can achieve high capacity factors. Geothermal represents a plentiful resource that has not been utilized to its full potential. As an additional bonus, geothermal energy does not rely upon energy imports. Geothermal is an indigenous source of energy.
Geothermal energy is renewable. Geothermal resources are sustainable because of the heat from the earth and water injection, and thus will not diminish like fossil fuel reserves. As time progresses and technology improves, our ability to extract geothermal resources with ease will increase, not decrease.
Geothermal energy produces minimal air emissions and offsets the high air emissions of fossil fuel-fired power plants. Emissions of nitrous oxide, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and carbon dioxide are extremely low, especially when compared to fossil fuel emissions. The binary geothermal plant, which currently represents around 15% of all geothermal plant capacity, along with the flash/binary plant, produuce nearly zero air emissions.
Geothermal energy can offset other environmental impacts. Wastewater that would otherwise damage surface water can be used to recharge geothermal system and irrigate local land. In addition, electricity generation from geothermal resources eliminates the mining, processing and transporting required for electircity generation from fossil fuel resources.
Geothermal energy is combustion free. Unlike fossil fuel power plants, no smoke is emitted from geothermal power plants, because no burning takes place: only steam is emitted from geothermal facilities.
Geothermal energy minimally impacts land. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, geothermal energy uses less land than other energy sources, both fossil fuel and renewable. No transportation of geothermal resources is necessary, because the resource is tapped directly at its source.
Geothermal energy is competitive with other energy technologies when environmental costs are considered. A 1995 study estimates that costs of power generation would increase 17% for natural gas and 25% for coal if environmental costs were included. These costs include land degradation, potentially toxic emissions, forced extinction and destruction of animals and plants, and health impacts to humans.