Geothermal energy existed long before people gave it a name. There were hot springs or natural fumaroles; people used them to cook their food, take baths with hot water, heat houses, greenhouses, and stables. The minerals contained in the hot springs were used for medical purposes.
In the 19th Century, geothermal energy began to be used industrially with the technological advances of this time.
The founder of the geothermal industry was Frenchman Francois Larderel. He was the one who used the liquids in an evaporation process instead of burning the wood, and in this way, he started what we know today as geothermal energy.
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Ancient Usage of Geothermal Energy
Many contemporaries will be interested in the oldest geothermal center, a stone pool located in China. Some give credit to Romans for the initial usage of geothermal energy.
However, the real pioneers were not Chinese or Romans but Etruscans. They were the ones who utilized geothermal power for multiple purposes.
Let’s look at our ancestors’ ancient uses of geothermal energy, which changed how we use this energy today.
Third century B.C.
The Etruscans built their cities mainly near geothermal areas and used the products derived from them – alabaster, travertine, iron oxides, thermal mud as commercial goods.
The oldest remains of the Etruscan spa complex at Sasso Pisano, in Tuscany, date from the 3rd century BCE.
First century B.C.
The passion for thermal waters was one of the many that the Etruscan civilization transmitted to the Romans.
Geothermal interest in Tuscany and its Devil’s Valley was growing, named for the presence of steam and geyser emissions.
Aquas Volaternas and Aque Populnie, known today as Larderello and Sasso Pisano, appear as major hot springs in the Tabula Peutingeriana, the famous road map of the Roman Empire.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, thermalism and the use of geothermal energy by-products underwent a sharp decline during the early part of the Middle Ages.
Balneotherapy, hydrothermal minerals, and other by-products of terrestrial heat begin to flourish again in Italy, always in Tuscany.
After the so-called Allumiere War between the Municipalities of Florence and Volterra, today’s area is known as the Boracifera Region. The hydrothermal deposits associated with geothermal events are under the Medici domain.
Boric acid was discovered in ancient Italy which was widely used in pharmacies, especially for eye diseases, in the Tuscan geothermal events in Monterotondo Marittimo and Castelnuovo Val di Cecina.
French engineer and entrepreneur François Jacques de Larderel developed a technique to collect the steam emitted by ponds using the covered pond.
A hemispherical masonry dome built above the lagoon captured the steam and was used as a heat source. It fed the boilers needed to extract the boric acid from the natural mud.
Italian engineer Vincenzo Manteri appears to support de Larderel’s ideas. He carried out the first drills to find underground steam, thus obtaining a higher production.
The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, recognized de Larderel’s merits and appointed him Count of Monte Cerboli.
The locality became the consolidated industrial agglomeration site. In honor of his merits, the Grand Duke changed the name of the locality to Larderello.
Industrial use of geothermal energy crossed the Italian borders. The first district heating system opened in Boise, USA.
The USA then transferred the geothermal heat to the residence of Warm Springs Avenue in Boise, Idaho.
In Larderello, Piero Ginori Conti, general director since 1894, lighted the first five geothermal lamps with the help of a machine made up of an alternating engine coupled to a dynamo.
The world’s first geothermal plant was born in Italy: Larderello 1.
1919 to 1928
Other nations followed the Italian example. The first geothermal well was drilled in Japan, at Beppu, in 1921. Then by the United States with The Geysers in California.
Around 1928, Iceland began to explore geothermal fluids, boiling water, to heat buildings. Ninety-nine percent of Reykjavík, Iceland, received geothermal water for heating their buildings.
1938 World War II
The Larderello 2 plant was inaugurated. World War II destroyed all the facilities in the Boracifera Region.
After reconstruction, Larderello’s third plant became the most powerful in the world. Its installed power reached 127,650 kW.
1958 to 1960
Geothermal energy expanded in the world over the years. The first geothermal plant in Wairakei, New Zealand, came into operation in 1958. And the year later, another plant was built in Mexico and then in many other countries.
The first commercial geothermal plant came into existence in The Geysers in California in 1960. In 1966, the Pauzhetskaya GeoPP was put into operation in Kamchatka.
The Soviet Union presented the binary cycle plant model, the Paratunskaya GeoPP, with a capacity of 600 kW.
The geofluid transfers heat to a second fluid. The second fluid worked in a closed cycle in the thermoelectric plant, operated from the boiler.
Once cooled, the geothermal fluid was injected back underground. This technology allowed electricity generation from low-temperature sources and facilitated the diffusion of geothermal energy, even if less efficiently.
1973 to 1980
The oil crisis began, and many countries started to look for renewable energy sources. By the 1980s, ground source heat pumps (GHP) began to gain popularity, reducing heating and cooling costs.
In California, the Geysers geothermal plant set the world record for geothermal energy production, with a total installed capacity of 2,043 MW.
There were noticeable climatic changes, and the governments of different countries joined forces to solve global problems.
One of the steps was the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in Japan in 1997. It set emission targets for developed countries and provided for investment and technology transfer to developing countries.
The USA became the undisputed leader in the field of geothermal energy. The total capacity of American GeoPPs reached 3442 MW.
Almost half of it (1517 MW) fell on the enormous Geysers complex that consisted of 22 stations.
Along with China, Turkey, Iceland, Japan, Hungary, and the United States, more than 80 nations started using geothermal energy. The total worldwide installed geothermal capacity reached 73,290 megawatts thermal (MWt).
Thirty-eight countries united to form the Global Geothermal Alliance, to strengthen the role of geothermal energy in the international arena. It was created at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21) in 2015.
Today, the United States holds the leading position in the production of geothermal electricity. Indonesia overtook the Philippines to come in second. The Philippine government has predicted a doubling of the potential of renewable energy sources by 2030.
Most of the energy will come from geothermal energy, which contributes to constructing new geothermal power plants. In 2018, Turkey and New Zealand launched new geothermal power plants – this was the impetus for these countries to get into the top five.
Currently, the total world capacity is 14.37 GW. The US is still the largest producer of geothermal energy. However, limited development activities are making countries like Indonesia and Turkey more attractive to investors.