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Geothermal Energy Research Heats Up

We hear a lot about the problems of fossil fuels, such as coal, gas and oil, and their use in our homes, factories and cars. Fossil fuels are limited, so we are in danger of one day running out due to the increasing demands of a global economy. Environmental advocates say that fossil fuels are also playing a negative role in climate change.

Some governments are actively researching ways to replace the use of fossil fuels. Geothermal energy is one of the alternatives.

What is geothermal energy? "Geothermal energy is heat from within the earth," says the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

"We can use the steam and hot water produced inside the earth to heat buildings or generate electricity. Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source because water is replenished by rainfall and the heat is continuously produced inside the earth."

Geothermal energy is available any time. It is renewable, because the energy sources will not run out. We can access the power of geothermal energy by drilling holes into the earth, and then bringing the steam or hot water up to us.

Geothermal energy is the fourth largest source of renewable energy in the U.S. The U.S is the world's top producer of geothermal energy. Those stats are from the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA).

Scientists want to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Energy sources that don't produce as much carbon dioxide or other harmful gases are thought to be less harmful to our environment.

Geothermal energy produces a lot less harmful gases than other energy sources. But there is still work to be done to really get the most out of geothermal energy.

Denis Tanguay is CEO and president of a geothermal energy association. He says a lot of research is being done in the field. "Research in geothermal is mainly done on heat transfer fluid, drilling technology, grouting material and better evaluation of ground conditions/soil conductivity in order to improve loop field design [a method used to deliver the geothermal energy from its source to a building] and optimization," he says.

"The ground is the energy source and our knowledge needs to be improved in this regard."

With increased population growth, the demand for non-polluting energy sources will soar. The geothermal energy industry has already created many jobs. Some of the jobs require advanced degrees.

For example, Mark Gielecki is an economist with the Energy Information Administration. "I work as an energy economist," he says. "I have a bachelor's degree in mathematical economics and a master's degree in economics. My education has given me the tools to research and analyze issues related to all energy sources, including geothermal energy.

"These issues include the study of incentive programs -- do they work, are some more effective than others -- and analyzing the relative economics of various energy technologies. In my work, I have the opportunity to work with engineers and scientists who are familiar with the technical aspects of power projects and learn from them."

While many of these jobs require specialized training, if you don't want to study science or earn an advanced degree in a specific field, you can still work in the geothermal sector. There are plenty of opportunities, from public relations to administration.

"There are jobs for construction workers, computer specialists, accountants, lawyers (attorneys), managers and associated business professionals," says Fred Mayes. He is a senior technical analyst for the Coal, Nuclear and Renewable Fuels Division of the Department of Energy.

For students interested in careers in the geothermal industry, the future looks promising.


Geothermal FAQs
The U.S. Department of Energy answers frequently asked questions about geothermal energy

U.S. Department of Energy: Geothermal
Learn more about the U.S. government's interest in geothermal energy

Geothermal Energy Association
Includes info about current and future career opportunities

Back to Career Cluster


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