One of the most effective ways to avoid high electricity bills in the winter is to use geothermal energy. This resource works to draw off temperatures from the constant core temperature of our planet. That means you can use natural heat and virtually no energy to stay comfortable, which can provide tremendous savings on your monthly utility payments.
Geothermal energy can also work during the summer months to keep a home cooler. It can work to provide the power that runs the HVAC system of a home or business and other specific benefits based on a property’s geographic location.
Using this 100% renewable resource seems like a decision that comes with all positives, but there are also some potential issues that could prevent it from being the best choice in some locations. That’s why a complete look at these geothermal power advantages and disadvantages can be helpful.
List of the Advantages of Geothermal Power
1. Geothermal power doesn’t create significant pollution.
Geothermal power plants do not burn fuel to generate electricity. Even in home or business-based installations for HVAC support, their energy consumption levels are minimal. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that this technology emits 97% less acid rain-causing sulfur compounds and approximately 99% less carbon dioxide into the environment than installations of a similar size that use fossil fuels.
This technology uses scrubbers to remove the hydrogen sulfide that’s naturally found in geothermal reservoirs. Many plants inject the water and steam they use back into the earth to create renewal opportunities. Most homeowners only spend fossil fuels during the manufacturing processes for the underground loops and support equipment that’s needed for the system.
2. It doesn’t require combustion like oil or gas furnaces for the home.
The lower energy requirements for geothermal power make it one of the most important reasons to invest in this technology. You’ll spend a fraction of what homeowners pay for an electrical or gas furnace, traditional air conditioning, or another fossil-fuel-based system.
Since there isn’t any combustion required to generate the energy that you receive with geothermal power, there isn’t any dangerous exhaust to manage with a home or business. That makes this choice one of the most environmentally-friendly approaches to remain content inside that exists right now.
3. This energy resource is suitable for small homes or large commercial areas.
Small homes receive the same benefits from geothermal power as large businesses do with this technology. If you have enough space available to install the ground loops for this system, then you can take advantage of the advantages it offers in virtually any setting. You can install a system of almost any size if you have space and money to do so. That means a building of nearly any size can benefit from geothermal power.
Once you get outside of the opening capital expenditure, the achievable savings with this technology from a commercialized standpoint are quite attractive.
4. You don’t need to worry about cost fluctuations like you do with gas or oil.
Once you install a geothermal power system in a residential setting, the cost savings begin immediately. If you live in a northerly climate, then your winter heating bills can be up to 60% less each month. It can also provide up to a 50% savings for some homes on their cooling needs. That means the average homeowner will save about $750 to $1,300 per year on their HVAC utility expenses.
Although it can take some time for a geothermal power installation to pay for itself, most households will experience a net saving in 10 to 15 years. It can be as soon as five years at the extreme end of the savings curve.
5. Geothermal power doesn’t need to create new heat.
The greatest expense that HVAC systems generate is the need to artificially heat or cool down the surrounding air. Geothermal power transfers the heat from our planet into our living spaces so that it becomes a usable resource. Since it already exists at the temperature levels desired, the energy costs are less, and temperature adjustments can happen faster. That means we can use this resource more efficiently than most other heating and cooling approaches.
6. Systems that use geothermal power don’t turn off with fuel shortages.
Geothermal power isn’t going to disappear entirely if the power goes out or you experience a fuel shortage. Although a fan or blower will not operate without electrical inputs, you’ll still receive heating and cooling benefits. Having a small generator that can power the necessary components can help you to manage an outage very effectively with this renewable energy. If you live somewhere with temperature extremes that can reach dangerous levels, then the advantages of this resource should be considered as a backup system at the very least.
7. You don’t need to have an outside compressor or fan with this system.
This advantage means that you have a quieter HVAC system when using geothermal power. Although you still need to have a blower of some type to move the air around the structure, you aren’t required to pull outside air into the home or business to modify it for indoor purposes. That means you’ll have less noise pollution to worry about while using this system.
8. It provides the smallest carbon footprint of any HVAC approach.
Since a geothermal power installation doesn’t require fossil fuels to operate once the installation is complete, it provides homeowners with the smallest available carbon footprint today for heating and cooling needs. It is a fast and effective way to reduce one’s impact on the environment without requiring a significant lifestyle change. It provides either a baseload or a peak power energy output so that the benefits of this system are always available.
9. Geothermal power offers a significantly longer lifespan.
Even if the installation cost of a geothermal power system is at the extreme end of the cost curve, you’re going to reach a break-even point at some point. The indoor components of residential and commercial systems have a rated lifespan of at least 25 years. When you use an underground loop system to provide HVAC support, then you can take advantage of the 50 years or more of services that some manufacturers are guaranteeing today.
That means a savings of $1,000 per year could result in a net gain of about $10,000 for your investment over the lifetime of the system.
10. It requires fewer maintenance needs than other HVAC systems.
A geothermal power setup has fewer moving parts as part of its heating and cooling system when compared to standard HVAC systems. That means there are fewer maintenance issues to worry about with this technology, allowing you to pay the initial cost and not much more. Some installations might even be eligible for tax cuts or allowances that further reduce the expense of using this form of heating and cooling.
11. You can connect your plumbing system to geothermal power.
The temperature changes which form from a geothermal heating and cooling system are useful for your hot water systems. Some installations can work with your water heater or tankless approach to reduce your gas or electrical needs to maintain this resource.
It also works more efficiently to keep the water hot, so you can often experience a faster recovery time when taking long showers or using the system extensively in other ways. You’ll want to chat with a local installer about this possible advantage to see if it can meet your needs.
12. Geothermal energy is more accessible today than ever before in history.
Installers in the United States are putting in over 100k heat pumps each year. Growth rates for geothermal power are reaching as high as 40% each year because of the advantages this technology provides. Since the overall expense profile is similar to that of photovoltaic panels, it provides a better long-term investment since some of the components can last 2-3 times longer than other renewable energy solutions.
Although it can be challenging to retrofit geothermal power systems to existing structures, this technology is available to everyone. That means all of us can help the planet while adjusting to a cleaner lifestyle simultaneously.
13. The technology that provides geothermal energy will only improve.
We can generate new efficiencies with fossil fuels to make the combustion less impactful to the environment, but we also know that oil and gas provide us with specific outcomes. Geothermal power is a technology-based energy resource, which means that it can continually improve as new ideas and inventions reach the marketplace. It is only going to keep getting better when we make this renewable resource a priority. If our focus stays on fossil fuels, then what we have today is going to be similar to what future generations get to use.
As an added benefit, geothermal power isn’t dependent on the weather like other renewables. You can’t turn off the heat from the planet, but the wind can stop blowing and clouds can cover the sun. That’s why this energy resource is one of the most effective HVAC solutions that’s available today. As long as our planet continues to exist, we will get to keep using geothermal power.
List of the Disadvantages of Geothermal Power
1. The cost of geothermal power is high compared to other heating and cooling options.
The initial cost of a geothermal power installation for homeowners and businesses can be more than $30,000. The final expense often depends on the property size and the need to install vertical or horizontal ground loops. Some people may see added expenses because their soil quality gets rated as poor.
Although the average installation cost is about $15,000 ion the United States, the expense of add-ons that include hot water, HVAC, and other requirements can quickly push the price upward. Remodeling projects would require additional infrastructure changes. That’s why the cost of this technology is often the most significant barrier that geothermal power faces.
2. This power resource tends to work better for new building projects.
Geothermal power requires a supplemental system on most properties to ensure that indoor temperatures stay at appropriate levels. This disadvantage applies to almost every geographic location that experiences freezing temperatures or below during the winter.
If you must have a heater helping you out during most of the winter when the cold temperatures arrive, then geothermal power can significantly cut into your overall energy costs for the year. That is why the recommendation for this technology occurs most often in sub-tropical regions that don’t experience a hard freeze very often.
3. You still need to use electricity to operate the heat pumps.
Almost every geothermal power system requires electricity to operate the heat pumps and blowers that distribute the air throughout the structure. That means you won’t be using a 100% renewable resource unless your utility provides green energy solutions, or you create your own at home. It is still a significantly better solution than coal-fired power in most situations. The lifespan of this technology makes it worth the investment in many circumstances. If you want something that is entirely environmentally friendly, then you may need to speak with your contractor to see how you could modify this system.
4. Some forms of geothermal power use wells, requiring high levels of water use.
If you have a sizeable pond on your property, then you have the perfect opportunity to install geothermal power. The depth of the water must be at least ten feet for the technology to function correctly. You can then run the ground loops at that location because the water provides a stable temperature resource. You’ll need to hire a qualified surveyor to evaluate your property and have a contractor assess the pond first to determine if its qualities are suitable for this technology.
When you use ponds or wells for geothermal power, then the system can use a lot of water to generate heat. If you’re managing a time of heavy rainfall or drought, the equipment might get overwhelmed.
5. Discharges from geothermal power can include silica and sulfur dioxide.
Geothermal power uses scrubbers as a way to reduce the potential impacts of pollution from the structures of this system. When water gets injected back into the soil after being used to generate heat or energy, then remaining minerals and heavy metals can return in higher concentrations than they left. This issue can impact the quality of life for the habitats in the region.
Even when tight control mechanisms are in place to limit the impact of pollution, high levels of silica and sulfur dioxide can occur with discharges. This issue can create problematic clean-up costs that nay go beyond the budget of some homeowners.
6. You’ll have access to fewer installers than a standard HVAC system.
Geothermal power solutions are not always available globally, especially for homes and businesses in rural communities. There are some districts where there might not be a single qualified contractor to install or service this technology. Because the correct installation of the underground loops for this method is essential to its success, a DIY installation is not usually possible.
Some cities and townships may not allow a geothermal power installation because of zoning or coding rules. Even when it is available, the licensing and permits required to have this system might push the cost-savings beyond the break-even point.
7. Large-scale geothermal power plants are location-centric.
The largest geothermal power facilities must operate in specific areas where the heat from underground is easily accessible. There must be water resources available to inject steam to spin turbines to create electricity. Even if we look at larger residential or commercial projects, the location of the underground tubes has specific requirements that contractors must follow to have a successful installation experience.
That’s one of the primary reasons why geothermal power isn’t for everyone. The structure of the property itself can work against the technology that this renewable resource requires.
8. It can be costly to repair underground loops when they experience damage.
Vertical systems sometimes need an installation depth of 400 feet to be a useful heating and cooling resource when using geothermal power. Even if a horizontal layout is possible, any repairs that this technology requires means that the contractor must dig up the malfunctioning part to access it. That’s why when breakdowns do occur, the final cost can be surprisingly high.
Since the depth of some systems can require some significant drilling to reach, some homeowners may find themselves paying extra to bring an experienced professional to their property.
9. Geothermal power can interfere with landscaping.
Geothermal power installations are highly disruptive to your landscaping designs. This disadvantage is the reason why it is often only suggested for new construction projects. If you attempt to retrofit an existing HVAC structure with this technology, then you’ll need to tear up your property to install the underground loops.
Because you must replace the heat transfer technologies every 25 years or sooner, even when following the correct maintenance schedule, you can expect to be digging up the same spot on your property several times. If you don’t like the idea of laying new grass or restoring your garden, then you’ll have limited landscape options over the area of your underground loop access points.
10. It is impossible to achieve carbon neutrality with geothermal power.
The goal of geothermal power is to have it save energy compared to what gets spent on a traditional fossil fuel-based system. It provides that outcome exceptionally well, but it would also be incorrect to call this technology a carbon-neutral system.
Closed-loop systems still require electricity to provide heating and cooling benefits to a structure. You must pump water (and sometimes antifreeze) through the equipment to transfer energy efficiently. Some homeowners find that their energy savings struggle to reach 30% each month. If this outcome occurs for your property, then it can become a challenge to offset the initial installation costs.
If you have a significant amount of land that you’re not using for another purpose, then it could be the perfect installation point for geothermal power. Although this technology isn’t the best solution for everyone, it can provide an affordable way to meet the heating and cooling needs of homes and businesses around the world.
The cost and structure of the soil are the two primary barriers of entry to manage this technology. If you can manage those circumstances effectively, then the utility savings that are achievable with geothermal power are worth considering.
These geothermal power advantages and disadvantages provide an overview of this technology and what it can provide. How each point in this guide applies is up to you. Consider discussing this content with your contractor to see if this renewable resource is the best solution for your property.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.