In a boxing match between heating oil vs. geothermal energy battling for the title of preferred fuel source in Connecticut, the latter appears poised for a knockout. Afterall, in terms of potential for heating, renewability, efficiency and non-polluting nature, its advantages are hard to ignore. Then why don’t we use geothermal energy more? The answer lies in some pretty significant drawbacks to its use. To understand these, we need to first understand what geothermal energy actually is.
What is Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal energy is a renewable energy resource. It’s been around for a long time, but isn’t as well known as other alternative sources like solar and wind. Geothermal energy involves harnessing heat stored inside the Earth’s surface. Rocks, water and a layer of hot molten rock (magma) make up the Earth’s crust. This magma is even hotter than the sun’s surface. Geothermal energy is used on a large scale (utility-level) to generate electricity. It’s also used on a smaller scale to provide heating and cooling in homes and businesses.
Advantages of Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy has a number of clear advantages in its corner. First, there is no combustion during the heating process so there’s no chance of carbon-monoxide poisoning in the home. And because geothermal heat pumps don’t create heat — they just transfer it — they are on average 400% more efficient. Also, geothermal doesn’t cause significant pollution to the environment. In fact, both the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy recognize geothermal systems as the most environmentally friendly method of home heating. Geothermal energy is renewable and sustainable, has massive potential, stability and reliability.
Why, then, don’t we see geothermal energy used more than heating oil or even natural gas as a fuel source for homes and businesses? There are several reasons, so keep reading.
Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy costs less on a month to month basis over other fuel types. But consider it a long-term investment. The upfront costs of these heating and cooling systems for homes and commercial buildings are steep. Ground source heat pumps typically cost $18,000–$45,000 installed, and generally have a payback time of 10–20 years. Additionally, you need to consider the sizes of your home or building, heat pump, loop field, and usability of current ductwork. The average geothermal heat pump system will require between 600 and 1,200 square meters of land that is clear of trees and buildings. If your property doesn’t have that much extra land, geothermal isn’t for you. On the other hand, the average cost for the installation of oil heat systems is between $6,000 – $15,000, depending on the size of the home or building and the condition of your existing system components.
Though the whole earth’s surface contains geothermal energy, not all of it is harnessable. Only a small percentage of land lies above steam and water pockets suitable for heating homes or powering electrical plants.
Oil heat is provided by many companies, all actively engaged in a highly competitive industry. It is readily available and installed without the need to be located on a main gas line or have sufficient acreage to install great lengths of in-ground loops.
It has Surface Instability and Environmental Issues
That means earthquakes and sinkholes! Most of the ideal places for generating substantial amounts of geothermal energy are usually located in very tectonically active regions. The constant risk of volcanic activity and earthquakes prevent corporations from installing large-scale electricity generating facilities. In 2006, the construction of a geothermal power plant in Switzerland triggered an earthquake with a magnitude of 3.4 on the Richter scale. And when water and steam are extracted from the earth for geothermal energy, there needs to be a reinjection of water back into the wells to stabilize pressure. Failure to properly reestablish the pressure means the energy source will dwindle and create sinkholes.
Using geothermal energy can cause the escape of some gasses to the earth’s surface and the atmosphere. And these emissions are usually higher around geothermal power plants.
The oil production industry has been around for almost a century while the geothermal industry is just in its infancy. Heating oil is heavily regulated and partnerships like the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA) and the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) work closely with the American Petroleum Institute (API) to provide a framework for safeguarding the environment.
Considering Installing an Oil-Fired Heating System? Choose Levco!
Don’t bet the whole purse on geothermal just yet. Heating oil is still favored to go the distance in the ring. Its safety, overall costs, relatively easy installation and the fact that it is more widely available, make it the odds on favorite. But if you still have questions about the right fuel source for you, let Levco’s experts keep you off the ropes.
Levco has been delivering oil to homes and businesses since 1980 and has installed thousands of heating systems! We take pride in providing a valuable resource you can rely on for first-rate HVAC solutions and service that none of our competitors can match. Contact us today for a free quote or give us a call at (203) 533-8249!
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