Geothermal Energy: The Facts & The Myths

Misconceptions about geothermal energy are driving a variety of myths about its practicality, reliability, benefits, and costs.

The following compilation of information and facts about this generally untapped natural resource can aid potential future users and other interested parties in understanding current options for making geothermal energy a sustainable solution for many project needs.

Myth #1: Geothermal energy is extremely expensive with a poor Return on Investment.
Fact: This may have been true many years ago, but modern methods make geothermal systems one of the top energy performers today. Drilling is the most expensive portion of geothermal system installations; a properly designed system will minimize the drilling without impacting performance. Return on Investment is approximately three to six years; however, this can be as little as two years for a heating and cooling system. Typical savings range from 30 to 70 percent on heating and cooling costs.

Federal energy  tax credits are available on geothermal systems installed in both homes and commercial buildings.

Myth #2: Geothermal energy is only applicable in specific regions of the United States.
Fact: A geothermal system, either heating and cooling or power generation, can be constructed in any region of the United States. A properly engineered system can be constructed and controlled by the variations in ground temperature and soil/bedrock thermal characteristics for each individual site. Proximity to geysers and steam vents is not required!

Myth #3: Geothermal systems are a new and unproven technology.
Fact: Geothermal systems have been used and perfected for decades in Europe, but for various reasons, the United States was not as quick to switch over to this form of other alternative energy systems. Geothermal energy is certainly gaining popularity now in the US.

Myth #4: Geothermal energy is only applicable for new construction.
Fact: Geothermal is commonly implemented during new construction but is also commonly retrofitted to existing buildings. For older buildings with poor insulation and drafty windows, including those with historic value, geothermal systems can help provide heating and cooling for a much lower cost. The more energy a building uses, the more beneficial geothermal energy is.

Myth #5: Geothermal systems are not user friendly and are prone to failure.
Fact: A geothermal heating and cooling system generally requires less maintenance than an equivalent fossil fuel system. Additionally, heating and cooling is derived from the same equipment, in contrast to a conventional system which requires two units. The geothermal wells are virtually maintenance free; however, some wells are designed with pumps inside the well which will require minimal maintenance. Overall, maintenance costs are usually reduced and operation is similar to conventional systems.

Myth #6: Geothermal energy requires large areas of land and disturbs the surrounding ecosystems.
Fact: Geothermal energy is typically implemented through the drilling of wells, thus the actual land requirements are very small depending on the type of system. If a significant portion of land is available to develop a geothermal well field, a reduction in cost may be realized with the drilling of several shallow wells versus a few deep wells. Geothermal wells create temperature fluctuations within an area local to the wells; they have no impacts on surrounding ecosystems. An additional benefit to using geothermal wells is that they do not emit pollutants and they can be tucked under parking lots and ball fields.

Have questions about geothermal systems? We are here to help. Call us at 615-732-7700