Geothermal energy and solar energy are worlds apart, literally. However, they have more similarities than differences. After all, they are two of the most environmentally friendly renewable energy sources we have today.
The sun provides us with more than enough radiant or solar energy to satisfy the planet’s entire energy use more than 10,000 times. Geothermal energy originates deep within the earth and comes in the form of heat or thermal energy. Let’s give you a cursory overview of each, their differences, their similarities and how each plays a role in transforming energy as we know it.
What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is a form of radiant or electromagnetic radiation that comes from a star, like our sun. When you hear “radiation,” you might be thinking solar power is radioactive, but that’s a different concept entirely. When we refer to solar energy as electromagnetic radiation, we’re talking about light. And what makes up light? Photons!
Photons are tiny particles with no mass that travel at the speed of light. They’re the basis of radio waves, microwaves, x-rays, UV rays, and visible light — and photons can be any one of these depending on how much energy is in a particle. And believe it or not, all climate and weather systems on Earth are caused because of the sun’s photonic discharge.
The Different Applications of Solar Energy
Over time, we have learned to harness the sun’s energy in many different ways. The most popular and widespread methods include:
- Photovoltaic, or PV, solar panels use light directly to create electricity
- Concentrating solar power (CSP) plants use the sun’s thermal energy to heat water and spine electrical turbines
- Solar water space heaters use the sun’s energy to heat water and indoor spaces
PV panels absorb the sun’s energy, which causes electrons to shake loose from atoms. This creates an electrical current that can then be used to power homes and businesses. CSP plants can also create heat energy by using the sun’s heat energy to generate steam and spin a turbine to also produce electricity.
What is Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal comes from Greek and translates to “earth’s heat.” Therefore, geothermal energy doesn’t deal with the interaction of photons from the sun. Rather, it deals with the energy in molecules deep inside the earth. In fact, it actually has everything to do with that term we referenced above: radioactivity.
The earth’s internal heat in part comes from the formation of our planet billions of years ago, but a lot of it comes from radioactive decay. This natural process releases lots of energy that’s then distributed from the core to the upper mantle and crust. It’s at this point where we can use it to our advantage.
Applications of Geothermal Energy
Similar to solar energy systems, geothermal has many ways we can harness its power:
- Power plants use the earth’s heat to generate steam that spins a turbine to produce electricity
- Geothermal water heaters provide homes natural hot water without the use of a hot water heater
- Geothermal heating and cooling pump systems are used worldwide to heat and cool homes by leveraging the constant temperature just beneath the earth’s surface
The Similarities and Differences Between Geothermal and Solar
Now, let’s pit green energy against green energy. Here how solar and geothermal compare:
|Comes from the sun||Comes from the earth|
|Uses radiant energy (electromagnetic radiation)||Uses heat energy from radioactive decay|
|Can be implemented and used practically anywhere||Limited to only a few locations near tectonic plate boundaries|
|No carbon footprint||No carbon footprint|
|Limited to daytime hours||Can produce energy 24-7|
Which One Takes Home the Gold?
Shockingly? Both! While we’re clear solar aficionados, we can’t win the battle against greenhouse gas emissions alone. In order for us all to lower our carbon footprints and leave behind a cleaner, brighter future for the next generation, we must all work together — from solar and wind to geothermal and biofuel.
Geothermal is just as important as solar. Wind, the same. If people want to save money on their electric bills and lower their energy costs, then we need widespread adoption of all renewable energy sources to achieve our dream of a cleaner and affordable path forward.
To join the movement for yourself, head on over to our plans page to view our stellar offers. We offer 100% Texas-made solar without the need for panels on your home. Make the switch to solar today!