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Advantages and Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy Geothermal energy has been around for hundreds of years now.

. Basically, the term geothermal comes from the Greek words; geo which means earth and thermal that means heat. Thus, it gives out an instant and simple definition as geothermal energy is heat coming from the earth. Even though there is quite a number of arguments going on with regards togeothermal energy, but this one is still considered to be the most inexpensive and very affordable green energy solution that is very much available out there. Nevertheless, geothermal energy is truly effective all through any season and it can greatly help a lot when it comes to saving loads on energy costs. Aside from being less expensive compared to solar panel technology, it is also sustainable and completely clean. When there are pros, of course, there are also cons. So here are the many advantages and disadvantages of geothermal energy that you might want to know:

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy

First on the advantage list is with the fact that geothermal energy is surely environmental friendly. Since geothermal energy emerges from the natural that is being produced by the earth underground, so there are really no burned fossil fuels that were used along with the corresponding release of harmful and dreadful gases. Another advantage is that the supply of this renewable energy is constant, as well as without limits. Put in mind that the earth is never going to stop producing heat energy and in theory, energy is abundant enough to supply all the needs of all mankind. Third advantage is that when generating heat for a home system, it ensures you that it is really condensed. A standard geothermal heat pump is not larger compared to a small fridge. The next advantage is that geothermal energy is considered low maintenance. It seems though these energy source do not really require regular servicing unlike many other standard heating systems out there. However, this just simply means that it can cost less, as well as hassle. For the disadvantage, one would include the space that is needed for the piping system. For big scale operations, it would definitely require a massive amount of space in order to be able accommodate the maze of huge pipes. Speaking of pipes, the repair, as well as the maintenance can also bring forth a big disadvantage since the maze of pipes located deep underground, maintenance work is definitely not an easy task to do. This energy cannot be transferred over long distances. Unlike fuels such as coal, natural gas and petroleum, they can easily be hauled from the source to the user, even if its miles away. Lastly, the hazard of geothermal gases can produce. Tapping onto this energy may bring forth release of potentially harmful and hazardous chemicals, as well as gases such as hydrogen sulfide. Geothermal energy is thermal energy generated and stored in the Earth. Thermal energy is the energy that determines the temperature of matter. The geothermal energy of the Earth's crust originates from the original formation of the planet (20%) and from radioactive decay of minerals (80%).[1][2] Thegeothermal gradient, which is the difference in temperature between the core of the planet and its surface, drives a continuous conduction of thermal energy in the form of heat from the core to the surface. The adjective geothermal originates from the Greek roots (ge), meaning earth, and (thermos), meaning hot.

At the core of the Earth, thermal energy is created by radioactive decay[1] and temperatures may reach over 5000 C (9,000 F). Heat conducts from the core to surrounding cooler rock. The high temperature and pressure cause some rock to melt, creating magma convection upward since it is lighter than the solid rock. The magma heats rock and water in the crust, sometimes up to 370 C (700 F).[3]

From hot springs, geothermal energy has been used for bathing since Paleolithic times and for space heating since ancient Roman times, but it is now better known for electricity generation. Worldwide, 11,400 megawatts (MW) of geothermal power is online in 24 countries in 2012. [4] An additional 28 gigawatts of direct geothermal heating capacity is installed for district heating, space heating, spas, industrial processes, desalination and agricultural applications in 2010. [5]

Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly, [6] but has historically been limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries. Recent technological advances have dramatically expanded the range and size of viable resources, especially for applications such as home heating, opening a potential for widespread exploitation. Geothermal wells release greenhouse gases trapped deep within the earth, but these emissions are much lower per energy unit than those of fossil fuels. As a result, geothermal power has the potential to help mitigate global warming if widely deployed in place of fossil fuels.

The Earth's geothermal resources are theoretically more than adequate to supply humanity's energy needs, but only a very small fraction may be profitably exploited. Drilling and exploration for deep resources is very expensive. Forecasts for the future of geothermal power depend on assumptions about technology, energy prices, subsidies, and interest rates. Pilot programs like EWEB's customer opt in Green Power Program [7] show that customers would be willing to pay a little more for a renewable energy source like geothermal. But as a result of government assisted research and industry experience, the cost of generating geothermal power has decreased by 25% over the past two decades.[8] In 2001, geothermal energy cost between two and ten US cents per kWh.[9]

Hot springs have been used for bathing at least since paleolithic times[10] The oldest known spa is a stone pool on Chinas Lisan mountain built in the Qin dynasty in the 3rd century BC, at the same site where the Huaqing Chi palace was later built. In the first century AD, Romans conquered Aquae Sulis, now Bath, Somerset, England, and used the hot springs there to feed public baths and underfloor heating. The admission fees for these baths probably represent the first commercial use of geothermal power. The world's oldest geothermal district heating system in Chaudes-Aigues, France, has been operating since the 14th century. [11] The earliest industrial exploitation began in 1827 with the use of geyser steam to extract boric acid from volcanic mud in Larderello, Italy.

In 1892, America's first district heating system in Boise, Idaho was powered directly by geothermal energy, and was copied in Klamath Falls, Oregon in 1900. A deep geothermal well was used to heat greenhouses in Boise in 1926, and geysers were used to heat greenhouses in Iceland and Tuscany at about the same time.[12] Charlie Lieb developed the first downhole heat exchanger in 1930 to heat his house. Steam and hot water from geysers began heating homes in Iceland starting in 1943.

Global geothermal electric capacity. Upper red line is installed capacity; [13] lower green line is realized production.[5]

In the 20th century, demand for electricity led to the consideration of geothermal power as a generating source. PrincePiero Ginori Conti tested the first geothermal power generator on 4 July 1904, at the same Larderello dry steam field where geothermal acid extraction began. It successfully lit four light bulbs.[14] Later, in 1911, the world's first commercial geothermal power plant was built there. It was the world's only industrial producer of geothermal electricity until New Zealand built a plant in 1958.

Lord Kelvin invented the heat pump in 1852, and Heinrich Zoelly had patented the idea of using it to draw heat from the ground in 1912.[15] But it was not until the late 1940s that the geothermal heat pump was successfully implemented. The earliest one was probably Robert C. Webber's home-made 2.2 kW direct-exchange system, but sources disagree as to the exact timeline of his invention.[15] J. Donald Kroeker designed the first commercial geothermal heat pump to heat theCommonwealth Building (Portland, Oregon) and demonstrated it in 1946.[16][17] Professor Carl Nielsen of Ohio State University built the first residential open loop version in his home in 1948. [18] The technology became popular in Sweden as a result of the 1973 oil crisis, and has been growing slowly in worldwide acceptance since then. The 1979 development of polybutylene pipe greatly augmented the heat pumps economic viability.[16]

In 1960, Pacific Gas and Electric began operation of the first successful geothermal electric power plant in the United States at The Geysers in California. [19] The original turbine lasted for more than 30 years and produced 11 MW net power.[20]

The binary cycle power plant was first demonstrated in 1967 in the U.S.S.R. and later introduced to the U.S. in 1981.[19] This technology allows the generation of electricity from much lower temperature resources than previously. In 2006, a binary cycle plant in Chena Hot Springs, Alaska, came on-line, producing electricity from a record low fluid temperature of 57 C (135 F).

In the geothermal industry, low temperature means temperatures of 300 F (149 C) or less. Lowtemperature geothermal resources are typically used in direct-use applications, such as district heating, greenhouses, fisheries, mineral recovery, and industrial process heating. However, some low-temperature resources can generate electricity using binary cycle electricity generating technology.[29]

Approximately 70 countries made direct use of 270 petajoules (PJ) of geothermal heating in 2004. More than half went for space heating, and another third for heated pools. The remainder supported industrial and agricultural applications. Global installed capacity was 28 GW, but capacity factors tend to be low (30% on average) since heat is mostly needed in winter. The above figures are dominated by 88 PJ of space heating extracted by an estimated 1.3 million geothermal heat pumps with a total capacity of 15 GW.[5] Heat pumps for home heating are the fastest-growing means of exploiting geothermal energy, with a global annual growth rate of 30% in energy production.[30]

Direct heating is far more efficient than electricity generation and places less demanding temperature requirements on the heat resource. Heat may come from co-generation via a geothermal electrical plant or from smaller wells or heat exchangers buried in shallow ground. As a result, geothermal heating is economic at many more sites than geothermal electricity generation. Where natural hot springs or geysersare available, the heated water can be piped directly into radiators. If the ground is hot but dry, earth tubes or downhole heat exchangers can collect the heat. However, even in areas where the ground is colder than room temperature, heat can still be extracted with a geothermal heat pump more cost-effectively and cleanly than by conventional furnaces.[31] These devices draw on much shallower and colder resources than traditional geothermal techniques, and they frequently combine a variety of functions, including air conditioning, seasonal thermal energy storage, solar energy collection, and electric heating. Geothermal heat pumps can be used for space heating essentially anywhere.

Geothermal heat supports many applications. District heating applications use networks of piped hot water to heat many buildings across entire communities. More than 72 countries have reported direct use of geothermal energy, Iceland being the world leader. 93% of its homes are heated with geothermal energy, saving Iceland over $100 million annually in avoided oil imports. Reykjavk, Iceland has the biggest district heating system on the globe. Once known as the most polluted city in the world, it is now one of the cleanest due to geothermal energy. [32]


Enhanced geothermal system1:Reservoir 2:Pump house 3:Heat exchanger 4:Turbine hall 5:Production well 6:Injection well 7:Hot water to district heating 8:Porous sediments 9:Observation well 10:Crystalline bedrock

The Earth's internal thermal energy flows to the surface by conduction at a rate of 44.2 terawatts (TW), [38] and is replenished by radioactive decay of minerals at a rate of 30 TW.[39] These power rates are more than double humanitys current energy consumption from all primary sources, but most of this energy flow is not recoverable. In addition to the internal heat flows, the top layer of the surface to a depth of 10 meters (33 ft) is heated by solar energy during the summer, and releases that energy and cools during the winter. Outside of the seasonal variations, the geothermal gradient of temperatures through the crust is 2530 C (4554 F change) per kilometer of depth in most of the world. The conductive heat flux averages 0.1 MW/km2. These values are much higher near tectonic plate boundaries where the crust is thinner. They may be further augmented by fluid circulation, either through magma conduits, hot springs, hydrothermal circulation or a combination of these. A geothermal heat pump can extract enough heat from shallow ground anywhere in the world to provide home heating, but industrial applications need the higher temperatures of deep resources. [11] The thermal efficiency and profitability of electricity generation is particularly sensitive to temperature. The more demanding applications receive the greatest benefit from a high natural heat flux, ideally from using a hot spring. The next best option is to drill a well into a hot aquifer. If no adequate aquifer is available, an artificial one may be built by injecting water to hydraulically fracture the bedrock. This last approach is called hot dry rock geothermal energy in Europe, or enhanced geothermal systems in North America. Much greater potential may be available from this approach than from conventional tapping of natural aquifers.[26]

Estimates of the potential for electricity generation from geothermal energy vary sixfold, from .035to2TW depending on the scale of investments.[5] Upper estimates of geothermal resources assume enhanced geothermal wells as deep as 10 kilometres (6 mi), whereas existing geothermal wells are rarely more than 3 kilometres (2 mi) deep.[5] Wells of this depth are now common in the petroleum industry. The deepest research well in the world, the Kola superdeep borehole, is 12 kilometres (7 mi) deep.[40] This record has recently been imitated by commercial oil wells, such as Exxon's Z-12 well in the Chayvo field, Sakhalin.[41]

Renewability and Sustainability

Geothermal power is considered to be renewable because any projected heat extraction is small compared to the Earth's heat content. The Earth has an internal heat content of 1031 joules (31015 TWhr). [5] About 20% of this is residual heat from planetary accretion, and the remainder is attributed to higher radioactive decay rates that existed in the past.[2] Natural heat flows are not in equilibrium, and the planet is slowly cooling down on geologic timescales. Human extraction taps a minute fraction of the natural outflow, often without accelerating it. Geothermal power is also considered to be sustainable thanks to its power to sustain the Earths intricate ecosystems. By using geothermal sources of energy present generations of humans will not endanger the capability of future generations to use their own resources to the same amount that those energy sources are presently used. Further, due to its low emissions geothermal energy is considered to have excellent potential for mitigation of global warming.[42] Even though geothermal power is globally sustainable, extraction must still be monitored to avoid local depletion.[39] Over the course of decades, individual wells draw down local temperatures and water levels until a new equilibrium is reached with natural flows. The three oldest sites, at Larderello, Wairakei, and the Geysers have experienced reduced output because of local depletion. Heat and water, in uncertain proportions, were extracted faster than they were replenished. If production is reduced and water is reinjected, these wells could theoretically recover their full potential. Such mitigation strategies have already been implemented at some sites. The long-term sustainability of geothermal energy has been demonstrated at the Lardarello field in Italy since 1913, at the Wairakei field in New Zealand since 1958, [43] and at The Geysers field in California since 1960.[44]

Electricity Generation at Poihipi, New Zealand.

Electricity Generation at Ohaaki, New Zealand.

Electricity Generation at Wairakei, New Zealand.

Falling electricity production may be boosted through drilling additional supply boreholes, as at Poihipi and Ohaaki. The Wairakei power station has been running much longer, with its first unit commissioned in November 1958, and it attained its peak generation of 173MW in 1965, but already the supply of high-pressure steam was faltering, in 1982 being derated to intermediate pressure and the station managing 157MW. Around the start of the 21st century it was managing about 150MW, then in 2005 two 8MW isopentane systems were added, boosting the station's output by about 14MW. Detailed data are unavailable, being lost due to re-organisations. One such re-organisation in 1996 causes the absence of early data for Poihipi (started 1996), and the gap in 1996/7 for Wairakei and Ohaaki; halfhourly data for Ohaaki's first few months of operation are also missing, as well as for most of Wairakei's history. Fluids drawn from the deep earth carry a mixture of gases, notably carbon dioxide (CO 2), hydrogen sulfide (H 2S), methane (CH 4) and ammonia (NH 3). These pollutants contribute to global warming, acid rain, and noxious smells if released. Existing geothermal electric plants emit an average of 122 kilograms (270 lb) of CO 2 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity, a small fraction of the emission intensity of conventional fossil fuel plants.[45] Plants that experience high levels of acids and volatile chemicals are usually equipped with emission-control systems to reduce the exhaust. In addition to dissolved gases, hot water from geothermal sources may hold in solution trace amounts of toxic elements such as mercury, arsenic, boron, andantimony.[46] These chemicals precipitate as the water cools, and can cause environmental damage if released. The modern practice of injecting cooled geothermal fluids back into the Earth to stimulate production has the side benefit of reducing this environmental risk. Direct geothermal heating systems contain pumps and compressors, which may consume energy from a polluting source. This parasitic load is normally a fraction of the heat output, so it is always less polluting than electric heating. However, if the electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, then the net emissions of geothermal heating may be comparable to directly burning the fuel for heat. For example, a geothermal heat pump powered by electricity from acombined cycle natural gas plant would produce about as much pollution as a natural gas condensing furnace of the same size.[31] Therefore the environmental value of direct geothermal heating applications is highly dependent on the emissions intensity of the neighboring electric grid. Plant construction can adversely affect land stability. Subsidence has occurred in the Wairakei field in New Zealand.[11] In Staufen im Breisgau, Germany, tectonic uplift occurred instead, due to a previously isolated anhydrite layer coming in contact with water and turning into gypsum, doubling its volume. [47][48]


Enhanced geothermal systems can trigger earthquakes as part of hydraulic fracturing. The project in Basel, Switzerland was suspended because more than 10,000 seismic events measuring up to 3.4 on the Richter Scale occurred over the first 6 days of water injection.[50] Geothermal has minimal land and freshwater requirements. Geothermal plants use 3.5 square kilometres (1.4 sq mi) per gigawatt of electrical production (not capacity) versus 32 square kilometres (12 sq mi) and 12 square kilometres (4.6 sq mi) for coal facilities and wind farms respectively.[11] They use 20 litres (5.3 US gal) of freshwater per MWh versus over 1,000 litres (260 US gal) per MWh for nuclear, coal, or oil.[11]

Story: Geothermal energy

Page 1 Heat from the earth

Geothermal fields in the Taup volcanic zone

Mori women cooking at Whakarewarewa

Taking the waters

Geothermal heating at Rotorua hospital

Wairoa geyser, 1906 (1st of 2)

The word geothermal comes from the Greek and means heat from the earth. Deep inside the earth heat is released by the decay of radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium. Geothermal systems occur where circulating groundwater is heated and rises as a column of hot water to the surface. There are two main types of geothermal system: Low-temperature systems, which range from 30C to 100C, are associated with areas of extinct volcanism, or with active faults. High-temperature systems are associated with active volcanism. They are heated by shallow reservoirs of molten rock (magma), and temperatures typically reach 200300C. The surface features of a geothermal system may be an isolated hot spring, mud pool, geyser, or area of steaming ground. A set of these features grouped together is called a geothermal field.

New Zealands geothermal features are world famous. In particular, the Taup Volcanic Zone has one of the greatest concentrations of geothermal activity in the world, and is rivalled only by Yellowstone National Park in the United States.

Early uses
Before Europeans arrived, Mori used hot springs for heating, cooking and preserving food, and for their medicinal and therapeutic properties. These traditional uses did not affect or modify geothermal features greatly.

European settlers soon discovered the scenic charms and healing benefits of thermal springs, and spa bathing became the basis of a rapidly growing tourism industry. Bathhouses and treatment centres were set up in Rotorua from about 1870. Between 1891 and 1904 the number of spa baths taken each year by visitors increased from 10,000 to 100,000. At first this demand could be met by the natural springs, but eventually shallow wells had to be drilled to increase the hot-water supply.
A geothermal hotel
Rotoruas Millennium Hotel makes full use of its location. Steam from under the ground is used to heat rooms, tap water, and the swimming and spa pools. It is also used for cooling and air conditioning. Cooling can be produced when geothermal heat evaporates a low-boiling-point liquid.

Town heating
Geothermal waters have been used for many years in Rotorua, and to a lesser extent in Taup, to heat homes, businesses and institutions. It would have been efficient to develop municipal heating systems, but this was hindered by a lack of capital and political will. Instead, individuals and organisations drilled their own shallow bores, using small-scale, primitive heating systems that wasted a lot of the heat. There were severe electricity shortages in the 1950s and restrictions were imposed. This encouraged people in Rotorua to drill wells to heat their homes. By the 1970s it became apparent that drawing off hot water was depleting the Rotorua reservoir and damaging local geysers and springs. Since 1991 geothermal extraction has been managed to protect surface geothermal activity. Recent trends have been towards communal systems, with 10 or more households typically sharing a well. A major use of geothermal energy in Rotorua is pool heating. Swimming pools can contain clean, fresh water warmed by heat exchangers. Mineral pools use the geothermal waters.

Story: Geothermal energy

Page 2 Wairkei geothermal power station

Hazards of drilling

Opening Wairkei power station

Crater left by the rogue bore

Roadside Stories: Geothermal power at Wairkei

Harnessing underground steam to generate electricity is one of the worlds more unusual engineering feats. The earliest experiments were carried out at Larderello in Italy, where the worlds first geothermal power station was opened in 1913. New Zealand army engineers serving in Italy during the Second World War were sent to inspect the station, but when they arrived in June 1944 it had been destroyed by retreating German forces. New Zealand engineers visited Larderello again in 1948, when the power station had been rebuilt and was producing over 140 megawatts of electricity. Back in New Zealand, two dry years in a row had meant that hydroelectric dams could not produce the countrys energy requirements. Another source of power, independent of imported oil, was becoming imperative.

Pioneering days at Wairkei

In 1949 exploratory drilling began at Wairkei, just north of Taup. This site was chosen because the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) had already succeeded in obtaining steam for the Wairkei Tourist Hotel by drilling to 170 metres; cooling water was available from the nearby Waikato River; and the land was undeveloped. Initial explorations were encouraging, and the power station was built between 1958 and 1963. It was only the second in the world, and the first to attempt to harness wet steam (a mixture of steam and hot water, in contrast to Larderellos use of dry steam). Engineers invented a steamwater separator, and had to pioneer ways of overcoming numerous other problems. As a result, New Zealand expertise became highly sought-after by countries interested in developing geothermal resources.

A flirtation with nuclear power

The Wairkei geothermal project was initially a joint venture between the New Zealand government and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to produce power and heavy water. Heavy water (in which both hydrogen atoms have been replaced by their heavier isotope deuterium) is used to slow down the nuclear fission process that occurs in thermal nuclear reactors. It can be made by distilling ordinary water, but this process uses a lot of energy; geothermal heat was thought to be an ideal energy source. The idea was first suggested at a conference in Rotorua in 1946, and in 1954 funding was approved. However, the costs proved to be prohibitive, and the UKAEA pulled out of the project in 1956.

Story: Geothermal energy

Page 3 Geothermal power production

hk power station

Bore discharging wet steam

Geothermal electricity production in New Zealand, 2001

Source of electricity generation, 2002

Turning steam into power

New Zealands geothermal power stations produce electricity using the following process:

Geothermal fluid a naturally occurring mineralised mixture of pressurised water and steam heated to between 200 and 300C is drawn from a geothermal field by production wells at depths of 13 kilometres. Temperatures as high as 326C have been recorded at Mkai, which is thought to be New Zealands hottest geothermal field. The high-pressure hot water is separated into steam and water, and the dry steam is used to spin turbines. The spinning of the turbines generates electricity. Modern geothermal power plants such as Rotokawa, commissioned in 1997, have secondary (binary) turbines. Lowpressure exhaust steam heats pentane (a hydrocarbon with the low boiling point of 34C), producing the gas that spins the binary turbines. All waste fluids are injected back into the geothermal field to help replenish it and to avoid contaminating surface waters with dissolved chemicals.

Geothermal energy potential

Despite the success of the Wairkei project, which has proved to be a costeffective and reliable contributor to New Zealands electricity supply system, it was not until the late 1980s that further geothermal power stations were built, at hk and Kawerau. The pioneering zeal of the 1950s and 1960s was followed by a lull during the 1970s and 1980s, when attention turned to the large Mui natural-gas field. However, this is expected to run out before 2010, and interest in geothermal power, along with other renewable sources such as wind and solar energy, has been revived. There was a rapid growth in the production of electricity between 1995 and 2000 in response to the 1993 deregulation of electricity supply and generation. In 2002 New Zealand had seven geothermal power stations. Six were in the Taup Volcanic Zone, and one at Ngwh in Northland. Geothermally generated electricity provided about 7% of New Zealands total electricity. New Zealands geothermal energy potential is considered large in comparison to other renewable energy sources, and could supply a third of our total electricity needs if fully developed. However, there are significant costs to the environment.

sStory: Geothermal energy Page 4 Other uses of geothermal energy

Geothermal steam pipes

Geothermal prawn farming

Greenhouse orchids

Industrial processes
Most of New Zealands geothermal energy goes to produce electricity, but it can be used for any processes where heat is required. The main non-electrical user is the Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill at Kawerau, which was built in 1957 and deliberately sited to take advantage of the underlying geothermal field. The heat is used for digesting wood pulp, drying timber and paper, and generating electricity.

Geothermal prawn farming

The worlds only geothermally heated prawn farm was established in 1987 on the banks of the Waikato River, next to the Wairkei power station. The first prawns were imported from Malaysia in 1988, and by 2005 the 5.8-hectare farm was producing about 20 tonnes per year. The farm heats its own water with heat exchangers, which draw heat from the power stations waste water before it flows back into the Waikato River. This is a good example of what is known as cascade use, where geothermal heat has a function past its primary purpose. Cascading improves the overall efficiency of a resource by using its waste products. In the case of the prawn farm, cascading also reduces the discharge of hot water into the river, where it can harm aquatic life.

Geothermal waters are used for heating greenhouses on a small scale (covering 10 hectares in total), especially for the commercial, out-of-season production of vegetables, flowers and fruit. This includes a large greenhouse (0.8 hectares) for growing orchids for export, and another set up to grow capsicums with heat from the Kawerau geothermal field.

Crop and timber drying

Drying lucerne (alfalfa) using geothermal energy was pioneered in hk in the 1970s. Geothermal heat from the hk power station has been used to make high-protein pellets to feed stock and to process dried juice into a protein concentrate. A timber-drying operation on site produces fence posts and poles, mainly for the local farming industry. The Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill uses geothermal steam in heat exchangers to heat kiln air to 140C for timber drying.

Story: Geothermal energy

Page 5 Effects on the environment

Geyser Valley in 1908

Geyser Valley, 1950s

Subsidence around Wairkei geothermal field

Arsenic in the Waikato River

Champagne Pool

In case of poisoning

Depletion of resources
The process of extracting geothermal fluids (which include gases, steam and water) for power generation typically removes heat from natural reservoirs at over 10 times their rate of replenishment. This imbalance may be partially improved by injecting waste fluids back into the geothermal system.

Damage to natural geothermal features

Natural features such as hot springs, mud pools, sinter terraces, geysers, fumaroles (steam vents) and steaming ground can be easily, and irreparably, damaged by geothermal development. When the Wairkei geothermal field was tapped for power generation in 1958, the withdrawal of hot fluids from the underground reservoir began to cause long-term changes to the famous Geyser Valley, the nearby Waiora Valley, and the mighty Karapiti blowhole. The ground sagged 3 metres in some places, and hot springs and geysers began to decline and die as the supply of steaming water from below was depleted. In Geyser Valley, one of the first features to vanish was the great Wairkei geyser, which used to play to a height of 42 metres. Subsequently, the famous Champagne Pool, a blue-tinted boiling spring, dwindled away to a faint wisp of steam. In 1965 the Tourist Hotel Corporation tried to restore it by pumping in some three million litres of water, but to no avail. Geyser Valley continued to deteriorate, and in 1973 it was shut down as a tourist spectacle. This story has been repeated many times where there has been geothermal development.

Extracting geothermal fluids can reduce the pressure in underground reservoirs and cause the land to sink. The largest subsidence on record is at Wairkei, where the centre of the subsidence bowl is sinking at a rate of almost half a metre every year. In 2005 the ground was 14 metres lower than it

was before the power station was built. As the ground sinks it also moves sideways and tilts towards the centre. This puts a strain on bores and pipelines, may damage buildings and roads, and can alter surface drainage patterns.

Polluting waterways
Geothermal fluids contain elevated levels of arsenic, mercury, lithium and boron because of the underground contact between hot fluids and rocks. If waste is released into rivers or lakes instead of being injected into the geothermal field, these pollutants can damage aquatic life and make the water unsafe for drinking or irrigation. A serious environmental effect of the geothermal industry is arsenic pollution. Levels of arsenic in the Waikato River almost always exceed the World Health Organisation standard for drinking water of 0.01 parts per million. Most of the arsenic comes from geothermal waste water discharged from the Wairkei power station. Natural features such as hot springs are also a source of arsenic, but it tends to be removed from the water as colourful mineral precipitates like bright red realgar and yellowy green orpiment.

Air emissions
Geothermal fluids contain dissolved gases which are released into the atmosphere. The main toxic gases are carbon dioxide (CO 2) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Both are denser than air and can collect in pits, depressions or confined spaces. These gases are a recognised hazard for people working at geothermal stations or bore fields, and can also be a problem in urban areas. In Rotorua a number of deaths have been attributed to hydrogen sulfide poisoning, often in motel rooms or hot-pool enclosures. Carbon dioxide is also a greenhouse gas, contributing to potential climate change. However, geothermal extraction releases far fewer greenhouse gases per unit of electricity generated than burning fossil fuels such as coal or gas to produce electricity.

Story: Geothermal energy

Page 6 External links and sources
More links and websites

A brief history of the Wairkei geothermal power project

This article by Ian A. Thain provides a succinct overview, with photographs, of the construction of the Wairkei power station.

Domestic and commercial heating and bathing, Rotorua area

An illustrated account by Ross Anderson of the present-day uses of geothermal energy in Rotorua.

Geothermal greenhouses at Kawerau

An article by Michael Dunstall and Brian Foster about the use of geothermal energy in cultivating greenhouse crops.

Mighty River Power: lakes and power stations

Details of the Rotokawa and Mkai geothermal power stations.

The plumbing of steam

This article on the Techhistory site gives a detailed account of the challenges faced by scientists and engineers when designing and building a geothermal power station.