Uses and Demand

Geothermal energy is typically used to:

  • heat buildings
  • grow crops in greenhouses
  • melt snow on sidewalks
  • pasteurize milk
  • wash wool
  • aide aquaculture, such as breeding fish
  • spin a turbine to generate electricity

Geothermal energy is also used creatively all over the world. Hot springs are used in health spas to relieve sore muscles, and geothermal water is used to heat buildings. In some cold climates, geothermal water is routed under sidewalks and roads to keep them from icing up in the winter.

More than 20 countries around the world use geothermal power in some capacity. The countries currently producing the most electricity from geothermal reservoirs include the US, New Zealand, Italy, Iceland, Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan. These natural reservoirs can be found in places where magma has risen near the Earth’s surface (and where it has even broken through the surface in the form of lava).

Geothermal heat pumps can be used virtually anywhere, since the temperature just under the Earth’s surface stays relatively constant everywhere.

Technology is being developed to expand the use of geothermal energy. For example, many areas of the planet sit atop hot dry rock—no water, but plenty of heat. Scientists are working on “enhanced geothermal systems” that would pump water into this rock, break it up and produce steam to power turbines and produce electricity. As advanced drilling capabilities are discovered, more and more geothermal energy may become available.

Potential for geothermal energy also lies in oil and gas fields already in production. Many existing oil and gas reservoirs contain hot water that could be used to produce electricity and fuel at the same time.