Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Thermal energy

December 27th 2009

Thermal energy is being explored and used as a renewable power source in a number of different ways, most commonly in the form of geothermal power as found throughout geographic thermal hot-spots such as those found in the western United States and used extensively in some countries such as Iceland, however solar thermal energy is also being explored as a source of power generation by some developers as well.

Geothermal power plants can be found in a number of select areas around the world where the earth's crust is particularly thin near fault lines or developing volcanoes in order to allow for the easiest capture and conversion of power into energy with minimal development necessary. These plants typically utilize the power by drilling into the crust of the earth towards the thin location and then pumping water into the hole, producing super-heated steam that exits through a vent at high velocities in order to be captured and used to power turbines that generate electricity. While there are currently a number of different geothermal power plants being developed that use different energy conversion methods this is by far the most commonplace method that allows for the direct extraction of energy through a turbine generation process and is adapted for use around the world. The only drawback is that the viable locations for such a plant are limited, and as such they cannot be developed for widespread application in all areas.

Another form of thermal energy that is still being explored is a form of solar energy, however rather than using photoelectric cells to capture and generate power instead refractive dishes are used to channel the sun's natural energy into a key location that is then used to power energy producing steam engines or turbines similar to other geothermal power plants. This process has been particularly effective in providing a much higher conversion rate of the sun's energy than common solar cells which can only operate at a maximum of around 40% energy conversion rates with the latest models and decrease in effectiveness the hotter they become. Further, by utilizing the sun for thermal energy this can bypass many of the limitations placed upon geothermal power plants, however some restrictions on locations must still be made in order to ensure that enough energy can be harvested on a regular basis in order to make a solar thermal energy plant viable.

As technology continues to advance and additional research is done into various forms of thermal energy generation it is expected to see a large increase in these forms of power plants in the near future in order to provide a more stable, renewable energy source for the world that can be developed and maintained in various countries regardless of natural resources present. Given that thermal energy plants are high ecologically friendly as well and have virtually no carbon emissions or other negative impacts upon their surrounding environments these have gotten strong support from many people worldwide who are looking at investing in thermal energy for a reliable alternative to current fossil fuel dependence.