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Energy and Global Climate Change in New England

Geothermal Energy

Photo of a power plant
Photo courtesy of the Department of Energy

The constant temperature of the Earth creates underground sources of heat, hot water and steam which become fuel to produce geothermal energy. People have used various forms of geothermal energy for hundreds of years; modern technology accesses these underground reservoirs, steam deposits and hot air by drilling, and then using the heat or hot water directly or using it to create power. Geothermal energy represents an enormous, underused power source that provides clean, renewable energy in virtually unlimited supply.

Geothermal energy can be broken into three major categories:

Power Generation: Geothermal power plants tap deep deposits of steam or water to drive turbines that produce electricity. Electricity derived from these types of geothermal resources are common in the western United States and Hawaii, but not in New England.

Direct Use: Direct use applications involve tapping hot water in a geothermal reservoir close to the surface for applications from space heating to melting ice and snow on sidewalks and parking lots. Similar to power plants, most of the geothermal resources for this application are located in the western United States and Hawaii.

Photo of a Residential GeoExchange System
Photo courtesy of GEOEXCHANGE.org
(Click on house for larger image.)

Ground Source Heating and Cooling: Ground source heating and cooling can be done almost anywhere in the United States using a geothermal heat pump, a highly efficient renewable energy technology that takes advantage of the constant temperature of the earth beneath the surface. The heat pump transfers heat stored in the Earth or in ground water into a building during the winter, and transfers it out of the building and back into the ground during the summer. In other words, the ground acts as a heat source in winter and a heat sink in summer. Applications of this technology are for space heating and cooling, and hot water.

Many residential and commercial organizations in New England operate with ground source heating and cooling systems, including Trinity Church and the Massachusetts Audubon Nature Center in Boston, MA, and the City Hall Annex in Cambridge, MA.

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