Geothermal Basics

Start here if you want to learn the basics about geothermal: what it is, how it works, and why it is a vital tool in our fight to save the earth.
Scientists project that the U.S. geothermal energy will contribute to 10% of the country’s energy by 2050.
What is Geothermal?
Put simply, geothermal is heat (thermal) derived from the earth (geo). We have developed the capacity to harness geothermal to create energy via power plants, enhanced geothermal solutions, direct use, and geothermal heat pumps.
Rolling hills with large trees throughout with multiple lakes in the background and a hazy, orange sky above.
From our friends at the U.S. Department of Energy, learn about the basic principles at work in geothermal energy production, and three different ways the Earth's heat can be converted into electricity.
Why is Geothermal Energy Important?
Geothermal power is a renewable energy source that offers both firm and flexible solutions to the changing U.S. power system by providing a range of services including but not limited to baseload, regulation, load following or energy imbalance, spinning reserve, non-spinning reserve, and replacement or supplemental reserve. Geothermal plants can operate 24 hours a day with a steady output, regardless of environmental conditions, and are not subject to the unpredictability and voltage swings that variable energy resources (VER) face. Geothermal plants can also ramp up or down quickly, allowing them to adjust to the changing needs of the power system and act as a flexible power source in addition to baseload.
Textured Stripes on Red Rocks

The Benefits of Geothermal Energy

  • Jobs Boost. Geothermal power plants employ about 1.17 persons per MW. Adding related governmental, administrative, and technical jobs, the number increases to 2.13.
  • Economy Boost. Over the course of 30 to 50 years an average 20 MW facility will pay nearly $6.3 to $11 million dollars in property taxes plus $12 to $22 million in annual royalties. Seventy-five percent of these royalties ($9.2 to $16.6M) go directly back to the state and county.
  • Locally Produced. Geothermal power can offset electricity currently imported into the state, keeping jobs and benefits in state and local communities.
  • Near-Zero Carbon Emissions. Geothermal flash plants emit about 5% of the carbon dioxide, 1% of the sulfur dioxide, and less than 1% of the nitrous oxide emitted by a coal-fired plant of equal size, and binary geothermal plants – the most common – produce near-zero emissions.
  • Small Footprint. Geothermal has among the smallest surface land footprint per kilowatt (kW) of any power generation technology.
  • Reliable. Geothermal power can provide consistent electricity throughout the day and year - continuous baseload power and flexible power to support the needs of variable renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar.
  • Sustainable Investment. Energy resource decisions made now for sources of electric power have 40-50 year consequences, or longer. Using renewables like geothermal resources avoids "price spikes" inherent in fossil fuel resource markets. Geothermal energy is an investment in stable, predictable costs. Investing in geothermal power now pays off for decades to come.
Geothermal Heat Pumps

For information on Geothermal Heat Pumps, please see our dedicated page here