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Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy

From the Etruscans to the hamlet of Larderello, straight to Dante: geothermal energy owes a lot to Italy. The heat from earth’s crust has been harnessed to serve many purposes since the dawn of mankind. The real breakthrough though came at the start of the nineteenth century when a puff of steam turned on five light bulbs…

About geothermal energy

From the Earth’s heat comes energy

The Greek etymology of the term says it all: geō, Earth, and thermós, heat. The heat coming from deep within Earth’s crust transforms water in steam, which has accompanied mankind along its evolution to serve many different purposes: to heat, to cook, to power spas. In the eighteenth century, men pioneered the first industrial uses of geothermal energy and by the start of the nineteenth century, it opened the door for electricity.

Right until the sixties, the world’s hotspot of geothermal energy was the small Tuscan hamlet of  Larderello, which held the world record for installed capacity until the eighties, when this kind of energy sources went global on a large scale. In the last decade, countries like the United States and Iceland made the most of their own large geothermal resources, exploiting steam for household heating purposes. Suffice to say that 95% of Icelandic households are heated thanks to steam collected straight from the earth’s crust.

According to data from the 2019 IRENA report, geothermal energy’s contribution to the global renewable capacity amounts to 13 GW. Geothermal energy is less spread out than other renewable sources since not all territories hold large pockets of trapped heat in their subsoil. Fortunately, these constraints don’t hamper the development of its potential. Following the 2015 COP21 (Conference of Parties) conference in Paris, the Global Geothermal Alliance was established with the UN’s blessing to fast-track this renewable resource in a quest to hasten the energy transition process.

The history of geothermal energy

Going along with literature, medicine, and technology

How geothermal energy works

Journey to the center of the Earth

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A geothermal power plant is able to harness the Earth’s heat and transform it into electricity. In some of the planet’s best-suited zones, where the Earth’s crust is thinner and jagged, this heat flow is trapped via an extraction well 3 km deep, allowing for steam to flow naturally towards the surface and the turbine.

The turbine transforms the kinetic energy of high-pressure steam in a mechanical movement which is in turn transferred to an alternator to become electricity. The electrical current is then relayed to a transformer which increases the voltage to have it grid-ready.

After being used to jump-start the turbine, steam is then channeled to a condenser (or heat exchanger), which in turn lowers its temperature and transforms it into water. Thanks to a cooling tower, temperatures are further lowered.

This is when cooled water is presented with two alternative routes: it could either be used in the condenser, where it lowers the temperature of steam, or it could be re-injected in the subsoil where it will transform in steam once again, starting off a new cycle that generates clean energy. 

Natural manifestations of geothermal energy

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Geothermal plant

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Strong points of geothermal energy

Heat becomes green energy

An incredible potential

Since 2006, a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology highlights how the planet’s potential for geothermal energy could provide clean energy for roughly 4000 years.

Unlimited and constant

Day, night, sun or rain: none of these conditions has any impact on geothermal operations. Hence, the Earth’s heat is always fully and readily available.

Low management costs

Once a geothermal plant goes online, its management costs are significantly lower compared to other technologies.

Did you know?

Geothermal power, culture, food, and wine: Tuscany’s winning gamble

How could a handful of hamlets perched on Tuscany’s hillsides attract over 60 thousand visitors each year, with a continuously growing trend? With a diverse and enticing cultural offer for both kids and grown-ups, excellent food and wine products, and last but not least with the highlight of geothermal vents. Larderello houses the appealing Museum of Geothermal Power, and with its 30 thousand tickets sold each year, it surely is the local highlight, while inside the Larderello 3 power plant, a concert arena was set up in 2017 to house musical and theatrical performances. The wide and varied sustainable tourism offer is completed with nature treks twisting along the Biancane di Monterotondo Marittimo and the Fumarole di Sasso Pisano natural parks.

Tuscany served tourists another tasty encore in 2009 with the world’s first Renewable-power Food community: a food farming association uniting several businesses and entrepreneurs. What do they have in common? A varied, world-class range of foodstuffs like cheese, olive oil, vegetables, beers and wines, all produced with geothermal energy.

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