Geothermal energy history

Geothermal energy history

Geothermal energy has a much longer history than may be first realized, and has played a significant role in power production throughout the course of human history.

The use of geothermal power can be traced back more than 10,000 years as the American Paleo-Indians used hot springs for energy and heat at their settlements. Further archaeological finds have indicated that the Native Americans also used the springs for such things as heating and bathing. They may also have viewed the hot springs as possessing healing powers. The Romans were another culture especially fond of spas and hot springs and set up such institutions across their empire — most notably in the city of Aqua Sulis, as they developed a then “modern day bath” which is still in operation today and is a famous tourist attraction in the city.

The modern use of geothermal energy can be traced from the increasingly organized commercial ventures such as resorts and spas in the 1800s which eventually culminated in electricity production. The first industrial use of geothermal energy is thought to have been in the later part of the 18th century in Italy. Energy was used for the purpose of extracting boric acid from the Larderello Fields by using steam.

It was at the same spot in Italy where, in 1904, steam was used to successfully generate power that indicated that geothermal energy could be an alternative power source for the future.

Further to this, America’s first geothermal power plant made history in 1922 by producing 250 kilowatts of energy, sufficient to light the streets and buildings in the surrounding area. Its success was short-lived, however, as its power output was very limited when compared to other global sites.

This success in power generation though was pre-dated by the geothermal district heating system that provided heating to over 200 homes and 40 business premises in the same area. There are now 17 such geothermal district heating systems throughout the US, and many more globally. Iceland is a particularly excellent location to view the usage and power of geothermal energy as its capital city, Reykjavik, is powered entirely by geothermal energy provided by the North Atlantic Ocean Ridge located beneath the island. It is also an extremely popular destination for tourists seeking quality hot springs for relaxation and health benefits.

The 1960s saw the establishment of more and more organizations with the remit to research and develop improved geothermal technologies and energy sites and this continued throughout the 1970s, during which period the groundwork was laid by research and development into bringing geothermal electrical power into the energy-producing mainstream. This led to advances in technology during the 1980s, such as the advent of flash steam.

Today there are many geothermal power plants in operation in the US and throughout the world, and the 1990s saw the identification of more than 9000 thermal springs and wells and around 300 possible communities that could connect to geothermal energy. With the current feverish interest in alternative power sources we can expect to see this form of energy production grow further still.

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