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Categorizing energy and its usage – a look how geothermal fits into the energy mix

Categorizing energy and its use (source: ThinkGeoEnergy)
Alexander Richter 30 Jul 2019

Promoting and positioning geothermal energy as part of the energy mix of the future, we have to highlight what it has to offer. Therefore we created an overview that tries to categorize different primary energy carriers/ sources of energy in the context of how they are being used to provide energy to customers, be it in the form of electricity, heating or cooling.

Ever since starting ThinkGeoEnergy now more than 10 years ago, I have looked at ways how to promote geothermal energy, to highlight what is it that makes geothermal special and – if not a better source of energy – at least one that is competitive in what it has to offer.

In the last 13-18 months, it seems that finally the heat element has evolved as a dominant theme when we talk about geothermal.  How this will change the overall picture and how we promote geothermal is playing out right now.

But how do we position geothermal energy and how does it fit in the categorization of energy today? That is something that Patrick Hanson of Geo Energy Marketing and myself are discussing in a paper we have submitted to the Proceedings of the World Geothermal Congress 2020. The title of our paper is “Perception is Reality – How to control the narrative and position the brand of Geothermal”.

As part of the article, we look at the categorization and how important it is to understand the different segments of the industry from power, direct-use, to heating and cooling, and the corresponding sub-set industries within each.  Understanding these different industry segments will help us better recognize how to refine the brand and help steer the perception of each, and thereby the collective.

For the paper, we created an overview to showcase  selected renewable energy technologies and in what form they are being utilized by companies and consumers, e.g. in the form of electricity and heating. As an energy source, geothermal energy is unique as it represents multiple options of utilisation. Essentially being heat found below the surface it can be used to generate electricity or be used to create cooling, or it is being used directly as heat, e.g. for heating or related applications.

Other technologies, such as wind or solar photo-voltaic (PV) are generating either electricity only and that directly, or indirectly by creating heat that is then in turn used to generate electricity, e.g. biomass and concentrated solar power, or cooling through absorption. Another source of energy is industrial or related heat that is generated, e.g. through industrial applications, but not used (often called “waste heat”). This can also be used directly for heating purposes, or indirectly to generate electricity and cooling. Energy storage is another element, e.g. in the form of batteries for electricity storage, heat sinks or ground-source heat pumps for heating or cooling. The overview we created and show here is though not looking at the role of fossil fuels in this context.

This can though only be an attempt to categorize energy and its usage and will definitely continue to evolve.