Although geothermal energy is one of the best forms of sustainable renewable energy, its potential remains untapped till today’s date. This extensively environment-friendly energy source has infinite possibilities of meeting the large-scale energy demands of the future.

Humans have exploited geothermal technology for quite some time now. However, it is not as common as other alternative energy sources such as solar, hydro, and wind power.

A few people have incorporated this sustainable form of energy into their daily lives by introducing heating and cooling systems for their homes.

While there are plentiful advantages of geothermal energy, it also presents itself with a few downsides. The disadvantages have led to widespread uncertainty about geothermal energy.

Table of Contents

1. High initial capital and late ROI

For starters, it is still not 100% cost-effective compared to hydro, solar, or wind energy.

Geothermal technology is not cost-effective at present. Let me start by presenting you with a basic idea of how much it might cost you to install a geothermal heating or cooling system for your home.

The total cost would be somewhere between 10,000 USD to 20,000 USD depending upon the size of your home.

And, if you ask me about the Return on Investment (ROI), it would take around 10 to 15 years or more. Although the upfront costs are considerably high, geothermal technology works great as a long-term investment.

Geothermal energy is not for impatient users!

Additionally, the exploration and drilling process to locate fresh reservoirs further increases the cost significantly.

Energy generated by a geothermal power plant costs twice as much as that generated from burning coal.

As reported by the Geothermal Technologies website,

  • Energy produced by geothermal power plants costs between 4 to 8 cents per kilowatt-hour.
  • Energy produced by burning coal costs between 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

2. Release of hazardous gases

Humans are not the only producers of greenhouse gases. Mother earth is also busy producing greenhouse gases underneath its surface. Drilling wells in the natural geothermal reservoir to harness the energy will release hazardous greenhouse gases. 

Dangerous gases such as carbon dioxide, silica, methane, ammonia, and sulfur dioxide are emitted extensively in and around geothermal power plants. Depending upon the depth and location of the reservoir, some may contain tremendously lethal substances such as boron, mercury, and arsenic.

And not to forget about the unpleasant odor released by hydrogen sulfide. However, these emissions are insignificant in comparison to that of coal and fossil fuels power. Now, is it worth the risk?

3. Location-specific nature

The chief downside of geothermal technology is that it is restricted by location. No wonder finding a suitable geothermal reservoir is a challenge! The best sites are either always away from cities or in some unconventional places without human settlement.

An excellent geothermal reservoir is complicated to locate. It lies deep inside a tectonically active area, making it difficult to unearth and track the reservoir. Hence, a huge sum of investment goes into its research and identification process.

Volcanic areas are the best location for geothermal energy production. Did you know that about one-third of Icelandic and Filipino people use geothermal energy to fulfill their daily energy requirements?

Well, if you desperately want to be a geothermal energy user, you might have to move to the Philippines!

4. Surface instability and earthquakes

The alteration in the earth’s surface to install a geothermal power plant will cause surface instability and trigger earthquakes.

Drilling the hot rocks in the earth’s crust forces the trapped water to escape in the form of hot steam. The interactions between the moisture, return of unused water, and hot water reservoirs cause instability along the surface, causing an earthquake.

A Geothermal Energy Project in South Korea caused a disastrous earthquake in 2017. A magnitude of 5.5 Richter scale displaced more than 1,700 residents to emergency shelters.

On a brighter note, geothermal energy reservoirs are far away from human settlements, and thus the consequence of such instabilities is often ignored.

5. Issues with sustainability

Geothermal energy is sustainable and permanent; however, improper use can prove it otherwise.

Controlled usage is the key to sustainability when it comes to geothermal energy. It takes hundreds of years for rainwater to naturally seep into the reservoirs. If this liquid depletes faster than being substituted, the energy reservoirs can exhaust themselves.

Luckily, discharging water into these reservoirs is not a challenge. However, it is necessary to ensure that water is pumped back into the reservoirs faster before completely being drained out.

As for the heating and cooling of residential households, this is not the case as energy is being consumed differently compared to geothermal powerhouses.

6. Requires electricity

Geothermal energy needs electricity to operate as the heat pumps have to be powered. Henceforth, an inefficient geothermal heating and cooling system may increase your electricity consumption.

Not everyone is thrilled with the idea of installing a geothermal system and still paying their electricity bills!

7. High distribution cost

Unlike other alternative energy sources, geothermal technology requires a more complicated and extensive network of distribution channels. This is mainly because the geothermal energy reservoirs are far away from city areas.

There is a loss of a significant amount of energy during the transportation of geothermal energy using hot water from the power plant to your houses.

Moreover, several high-end and sophisticated apparatus are required to run a geothermal power plant making it even more pricy. Launching a geothermal power plant is definitely a costly process.

8. High-temperature conditions

The drawbacks of geothermal technology do not end here. To add more to the list, the need for extremely high temperatures is yet another downside.

In order to produce geothermal energy, a minimum temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) needs to be present.

Drilling holes into these extremely hot rocks is undoubtedly not an easy quest.

Is geothermal energy usage being pushed down by the need for high capital?

Despite being an environmentally friendly approach to energy production, high upfront costs have held back the popularity of geothermal technology worldwide. However, its future projections are endless.

At present days, research efforts are targeted towards addressing the controversies to overcome the use of geothermal technology.

The possibilities are infinite. However, the future implications of geothermal energy in our energy system will entirely depend upon technological progression and price amendments.

(Last Updated on October 10, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!