|Fig. 1: Drilling the AMINOIL geothermal well at Lincoln Rock, Sonoma County, California. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
Faced with the challenge of meeting the energy needs of today's society, many researchers are focusing on non- fossil fuel forms of energy. One of the types of energy that is gaining traction amongst scientists is the use of geothermal energy. Geothermal energy currently makes up less than 1 percent of the energy used in the United States, but if the current geothermal resources are supplemented with further research and technological advances, then this method of renewable and clean energy would contribute several times more energy than it is currently contributing.  In this paper, I will briefly explain the history of harnessing geothermal energy. Then, I will focus in on the process of using geothermal energy such as the current project occurring at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. 
Then: Ancient peoples have recognized the use of geothermal energy for centuries.  Their uses of this form of energy varied from hissing steam vents, erupting geysers and boiling mud pots to bubbling hot springs.  There uses were primarily for making food and bathing themselves.  Technological and cognitive limitations prevented these ancient peoples from ever tapping the true power of geothermal energy beneath the Earth's surface or underseas. 
Now: Technological advances have resulted in drills that can penetrate hundreds of miles below the Earth's surfaces. With these drills, we have discovered geothermal fluid which is as hot as 500°C.  The temperature of this fluid creates high pressure steam that can power turbines at the Earth's surface.  Many commercial geothermal wells can produce between 5 and 8 megawatts of electrical generation capacity.  Today, the world's largest generator of geothermal energy is the geysers of California.  The geysers are projected to produce at least 1,000 megawatts of clean energy over the next two decades.  While the United States is just cracking the surface of the potential of geothermal energy, Iceland is an impressive case study as the country receives 49% of its energy from geothermal resources and processes. 
The presence of geothermal resources beneath the Earth's surface was the initial reason that the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) moved its campus to Klamath Falls, Oregon.  The community of Klamath Falls lies on top of an abundant supply of geothermal energy that help heat 1,000 homes with the use of 600 wells.  The campus uses hot water from underground geothermal reservoirs to heat the campus, and the OIT is the only 100% geothermally heated campus in North America.  The campus uses organic Rankine cycle technology in order, which converts low temperature heat to electricity.  The OIT system involves three wells which pump geothermal water at a temperature of 192 degrees Fahrenheit.  The water is then pumped from the wells to the 4000 gallon settling tank before the distribution system sends the heated water to each of OIT's buildings.  This geothermal heating system helps save the OIT approximately $1,000,000 dollars a year.  An interesting fact about the OIT facilities and surrounding community is that a person could spend the entirety of their life living in geothermally-heated facilities.  From OIT hospitals, to K-12 schools and even funeral homes, the residents of Klamath Falls only know geothermally heated facilities. 
Though Oregon currently has limited geothermal electricity generation, it still ranks third in the nation behind California and Nevada.  With the continued expansion of geothermal sites such as Oregon Institute of Technology, the state's high-temperature geothermal areas have the potential to generate as much as 2,200 megawatts of electric power.  Although geothermal production is largely untapped, the renewable resource provides an intriguing, cost effective, alternative of green energy moving forward.
© Conner Crane. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
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