Simply put, geothermal energy is heat stored in the earth. It can be used as a renewable resource to generate electricity, and also for direct-use heating and cooling. Geothermal resources range from shallow ground to hot water to magma as deep as 300 miles below the earth’s surface.
The United States is the current global leader in the amount of electricity produced through geothermal methods. As of 2018, seven states contained geothermal plants, producing about 16.7 billion kilowatt hours (kWh). While this totals less than half a percent of America’s total utility-scale electric generation, this figure is expected to reach 65.8 billion kWh by 2050, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The U.S. has tapped less than .6 percent of its geothermal electricity resources. As Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology advances, the potential, say experts, will be enough to power the electric grid many times over.
Jobs in Geothermal Energy
Clean Jobs America, a report released by the non-partisan group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) in the spring of 2019, reveals that geothermal energy directly employs more than 8,500 Americans. However, IRNEA estimated that if you consider the power and heating subsectors, that number goes up to about 35,000 Americans.
A 2016 report by three geothermal organizations (the GEA, GEI and GRC) found that tapping the full geothermal potential of nine western states would create more than 121,100 direct, indirect and induced jobs. Of those, more than 19,400 would be full-time jobs and the remainder would be temporary construction jobs lasting at least a year.
The industry has a need for both skilled workers and those who hold professional degrees. Below is a sampling of five categories of geothermal jobs, and examples of the work performed by various occupations.
A number of dedicated workers are required to develop a geothermal power plant. Scientists study charts and maps of geothermal resources and help determine the most beneficial areas to drill. Environmental scientists help developers adhere to environmental regulations and protect sensitive ecosystems, while wildlife biologists assess a plant’s potential impact on local animal habitats. Hydrologists are also crucial to this line of work, as they study the movement of water to determine its quality and availability.
Engineers may work in a lab or onsite to monitor operations. Civil engineers design and geothermal power plants and supervise construction. They evaluate potential hazards like earthquakes, build a plant to best withstand these. Electrical engineers are the ones who design, test and supervise the machinery controls, generators and transmission systems. Mechanical engineers research, design and develop a variety of mechanical devices used in drilling and electricity generation.
Drilling crews are unique to geothermal energy. They are responsible for accessing hot water below the earth’s surface. Using specialized machinery, workers drill exploratory wells to confirm the sites of underground reservoirs. They then use large metal-framed cranes called derricks that hang over a well to control the drilling bits and other equipment. Derrick operators control this machinery and ensure proper operation. Rotary drillers are the ones who operate and control the drilling. They also monitor drill pump pressure and penetration speed, while keeping close track of the layers penetrated.
Building a geothermal power plant takes access roads and transmission lines, drilling and well construction. Construction laborers may use anything from jackhammers to break the earth’s surface to high-tech equipment that controls robotic pipe cutters. Construction managers are involved from concept through construction. These professionals plan, direct and supervise a geothermal project and oversee the construction process. Often working in tight spaces, plumbers and pipefitters install pipe systems that carry the steam from the tanks to the turbines.
Working in control rooms to monitor power generation and distribution, plant operators are essential for smooth and successful operations. They monitor the pipes, generators and other tools that regulate voltage. These operators work to prevent or quickly resolve any issues that arise, and perform regular inspections. Plant operators also communicate closely with electrical distribution centers on the regional grid to make sure energy production aligns with system load capabilities.
If you’re interested in a career in geothermal energy, start by creating your free professional profile on Clean Energy Jobs List today. Then search opportunities in your area for the job that’s right for you!