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Green Jobs in Geothermal Energy

To find your green career, you have to identify where your skills and passions fit. If you believe that renewable energy is one of the most important foundations of an environmentally sustainable future, you may want to focus your job search on geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is one of the cleanest, most efficient resources in the world. A green job-seeker knows that a career in geothermal issues will make a difference.

Geothermal energy is divided into three categories

  • Geothermal electricity production: Drilled wells bring hot water from geothermal reservoirs to the surface of the Earth where the heat is converted to electricity at a geothermal power plant.

  • Geothermal direct use: Hot water from the Earth is used directly without converting it to electricity. Examples include heating/cooling individual buildings or districts, melting snow on roads, bridges, and sidewalks, heating greenhouses, drying crops, and using it in spas, agriculture, and aquaculture.

  • Geothermal heat pumps: Continuous closed-loop pipes run underground and then back through the adjacent building. The constant temperature of the ground transfers to the water or substance in the pipes. On cold days the water is circulated throughout the building to provide warmth. On hot days, the process is reversed to take the heat from the room. The Environmental Protection Agency considers this technology to be the most efficient heating and cooling system available.

Geothermal energy's current status

According to the Geothermal Energy Association’s May 2007 interim report, 24 countries convert geothermal energy to electric power, and another 22 plan to start doing so by 2010. In 2007 the U.S. was the largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, generating 14,885 GWh (gigawatt-hours) of electricity. Geothermal heat pump installations and direct use applications are also increasing.

Current technology is scalable. Larger plants can service larger communities, and smaller plants are adequate for smaller communities. The key hurdles to building geothermal power plants are construction capital and overcoming the financial risks of searching for the proper geological configurations. Operating costs are reasonable and do not fluctuate. The geothermal industry will develop where the Earth’s geothermal resources are most abundant. Within the United States, the majority of geothermal activity is in 13 Western states, including Hawaii and Alaska. As of August 2008, these states had 103 geothermal energy plants in development for almost 4 GW (gigawatts).

Future trends in geothermal energy

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has provided a number of valuable incentives to the geothermal energy industry. Production tax credits, investment tax credits, and grants are available for projects that will be in service by December 2013. Homeowners will receive a tax credit of up to $2,000 for qualified geothermal heat pumps. A similar tax credit incentive has contributed significantly to the growth of the residential solar industry.

Issues that must continue to be addressed by the industry include maintaining the quality of drinking water near geothermal plants, finding ways to sequester the carbon released by geothermal processing, and minimizing earthquakes that may occur while creating new geothermal plants.

Sample jobs in geothermal energy

Here are a few of the job responsibilities and tasks you may look forward to if you work in geothermal energy:

  • Locating, assessing, and accessing the reservoirs is the job of geologists, geochemists, geophysicists, hydrologists, reservoir engineers, mud loggers, hydraulic engineers, and drillers.

  • Direct-use geothermal technologies create jobs for heating engineers and employees within the green building industry and agricultural industries.

  • Electricity production necessitates building power plants, requiring electrical and mechanical engineers, construction workers, electrical technicians, electricians, electrical machinists, welders, riggers, and mechanics.

  • Manufacturing and installing geothermal heat pumps create employment for mechanical engineers, geologists, drilling crews, heating contractors, ventilation contractors, and air conditioning contractors.

  • The research and development sector of the geothermal industry must have highly qualified mechanical engineers, electronic engineers, geologists, chemists, and materials scientists.

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