Energy

The history of geothermal energy, is our state willing to take the risk?

In our previous reports, we learned why North Dakota is being called a good site for geothermal energy.

We also learned about what it does and the pros and cons of getting involved.

Today, we dive into the history of this energy source.

According to the Department of Energy, archaeological evidence shows that the first human use of geothermal resources in North America occurred more than 10,000 years ago with the settlement of a group of Indians at hot springs.

The springs served as a source of warmth and cleansing. Their minerals as a source of healing.

While people still soak in shallow pools heated by the earth, engineers are developing technologies that will allow us to probe more than 10 miles below the earth’s surface in search of geothermal energy. And use that constant heat to generate power.

“People have been using Hot Springs for as long as people have ever found Hot Springs,“ says UND Instructor Josh Crowell.

It wasn’t until 1904 when Prince Piero Ginori Conti invented the first geothermal power plant at the Larderello dry steam field in Tuscany, Italy.

“To some people, that sounds like, ‘Oh it’s old.’ But when you compare it to other things, it’s not that old. It’s not as old as other forms of energy. Using geothermal energy in a direct sense has been around for an incredibly long time,” Crowell says.

Let’s fast forward now to today. The U.S. leads the world in geothermal power generation, providing more than 3.7 GW to the national grid.

In fact, the first modern geothermal district heating plant was developed in 1892 in Boise, Idaho. 

The Department of Energy states it supports the direct-use efforts, striving to heat more homes and reduce more energy bills.

“In a more modern sense, it’s a handful of decades old, and it hasn’t been expanding as fast as other forms of energy production; classic energy production, oil , natural gas, nuclear. Those have expanded a lot more recently. Wind and solar have expanded faster than geothermal because there’s a lot less risk involved,” Crowell tells us.

When building solar panels, you know what the solar history of the area has been. You know when you can expect the sun to shine and when it won’t.

With geothermal energy, that history and assurance is not easily seen since it comes from underground. Heat from the center of the Earth is at different locations around the world. The appropriate heat could be 10,000 feet, or it could be 10 miles deep. 

Though it has been beneficial in some situations, the big question remains: Is North Dakota ready or willing to take on the risks that come with geothermal energy?

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