Extracting the Earth’s heat to produce energy

Geothermal energy is a clean, cost-effective source of renewable energy with enormous potential. Used for space heating and bathing since ancient Roman times, geothermal energy is generated by extracting heat from the Earth. Technologies in use include dry steam power plants, flash steam power plants and binary cycle power plants. In these facilities, the heat from the Earth is typically enough to supply baseload power without the costs of fuel.

While estimates of the electricity-generating potential of geothermal energy vary from 35 to 2,000 gigawatts, geothermal capacity is widely anticipated to sharply increase over the next decade. According to the International Geothermal Association, there was a 20-percent increase in geothermal power on line between 2005 and 2010. The group anticipates this will grow to 18,500 megawatts by 2015.

Because the heat extraction is small compared with the Earth's heat content, geothermal energy is generally considered sustainable. In addition, existing geothermal plants emit on average one-eighth the amount of CO2 as conventional coal-fired plants.

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