What is Geothermal Energy?
Almost all of us have heard of geothermal energy and probably have a basic understanding of the concept: a hole is drilled into the Earth's surface at least 20 feet down; a pipe is pushed down the hole; heat rises as a result of convection; and that heat is used to warm a house or building using a pump for circulation. The greatest geothermal potential is near fault lines.
However, it may come as a surprise that geothermal energy potential exists almost anywhere on the planet. The fact is, 20 feet below the surface of the earth, the temperature is almost always equal to or greater than the seasonal average air temperature. In other words, even in the dead of winter, geothermal heat remains a constant source of energy and an ideal choice for heating and cooling.
Benefits of Using a Geothermal Heating System for Both Your Home and the Environment
Free Energy - Once you install a geothermal heating system, with the exception of minor maintenance and repairs, you have paid for the costs. That means you can heat your home with a geothermal heating system day and night, all week long, 12 months out of the year, and pay for nothing except the cost of running the circulation pump.
According to the U.S. Government, heating your home with geothermal energy means you can reduce your entire electric bill by between 25 and 50% (1).
Emissions Free - While we rarely think about it, the production of electricity is an incredible pollutant because it generally requires the burning of coal. While there are a few exceptions--hydroelectric energy production, for example--the vast majority of the energy produced in the United States is a product of burning coal.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, power plants in the United States account for over 40% of all our country's emissions (2). In other words, if everyone installed geothermal heating systems in their home, emissions in the U.S. would be at least 10%, possibly even 20%, lower.
Independence - Some people are comforted by the idea of not being reliant on an outside source for their energy needs. By simply connecting the circulation pump to a generator, you can heat your home using geothermal and be entirely off the grid in respect to your heating and cooling needs.
Sources: http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/choosing-and-installing-geothermal-heat-pumps (1), http://www.nrdc.org/air/pollution-standards/ (2)