How Does Geothermal Energy Work?


Quick Answer

Geothermal energy works by using the heat created by the Earth and turning it into an energy source for people to use. This clean, renewable resource provides energy in the United States and around the world.

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Full Answer

Heat created in the interior of the Earth continuously flows outward in a way that is virtually limitless. This creates opportunities for people to use this heat in a number of different ways. While places with obvious signs of geothermal activity, such as hot springs, are the most obvious places to consider the use of geothermal energy, it can potentially be used anywhere.

Currently, the most common way to use geothermal energy is taking advantage of hydrothermal convection systems that occur naturally. In these systems, water leaks into the Earth's crust until it is heated and returns to the surface in the form of steam. A power plant can then capture the stream and use it to run electric generators.

In the United States, eight states produce 3,000 megawatts of geothermal energy, which is the most capacity in the world. California, where around 5 percent of the state's electricity comes from its 40 geothermal plants, is home to 80 percent of this capacity. The Philippines, El Salvador and Iceland all produce at least 25 percent of their energy with geothermal plants.

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