A comparison between solar energy and geothermal energy

Our planet needs help. And it needs it fast. Fossil energy has a deep impact to our environment, and also it comes to an end. Natural resources are limited, as we are aware. So we begin to look for alternative energy sources. The sun and the earth are two of them

Solar energy

Probably better known as geothermal energy, solar energy is used in a huge quantity of houses. We all already have seen solar panels on the roofs of several buildings. Not only in the very south of Europe, but also more and more in our parts of the world solar energy becomes more common. Installation formed by solar panels or shingles that are fixed on the roof, solar energy is caught and piped through a system of small tubes to the heat pump which extracts the heat to lead it to the water reservoir.

Also there exists the possibility to win electric current out of the sun light. The efficiency of solar panels for electric use, that are called photovoltaic panels, over the last three decades had improved significant. Today’s panels are even thinner and more durable as panels of the first or second generation. New materials and scientific research makes possible that the last generation has nearly the double efficiency and is even cheaper than the first panels, which were brought to the market in the late Nineties.

With solar panels of nowadays you even can obtain warm water or electric energy in cloudy days. That gives them a sense even in northern countries with cold and rainy climate. Of course we have to admit that efficiency will not be the same as on sunny days.

Geothermal energy

Still there are not too much buildings that take advantage of an never-ending energy, which our earth offer: Geothermal energy. What does this mean? The core of mother earth is made of pure heat. Magma flows under the earth surface and reaches temperatures close to our sun’s surface. Human mankind began to take advantage of these natural energy source decades ago drilling deep wells into the earth. Hot underground water comes out as steam to move turbines to drive large generators producing electricity.

Today geothermal energy also is used to heat our houses. The principle is the same, just in a smaller scale. Pipes are drilled from a few feet until 300 feet in a case of an single family house. At 30 feet temperature reaches approximate 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is stable during whole the year, even at strong winter time, and guarantees enough temperature difference between underground and surface temperature to drive a heat pump. Both, electricity and heating water can be produced by geothermal energy.

The big advantage of geothermal energy is that it is completely independent of weather conditions such as sunny or cloudy days, but also independent of season. Almost the same temperature can be found deep in the earth. Some owners prefer the installation of earth collectors, few feet under the surface, but covering a large square, especially if permits are difficult to get because of water protection areas, or to reduce the costs. But they are less efficient as drill wells and much more surface is needed to bring the fluid to the correct temperature.

The difference between solar and geothermal energy

One comes from the sky, the other from the ground. As easy it sounds, as easy it is. An architect or energy planner should be consulted, because each place and each building project is different. It depends the surrounding, the climate conditions, the size of the property and last but not least the budget, which solution would be the best in each case.

Each of the two energy sources are extremely environmentally friendly, as they are renewal energy sources. It depends the circumstances which one matches better your requests. Solar energy systems are highly developed and there is a wide range of different sizes and types on the market, for each situation you can find your perfectly fitted solution. If there are no problems or restrictions to cover parts of the roof with solar panels or collectors, even in the far north solar energy works efficient enough to win heating or electric energy.

In some cases, especially on old buildings or in natural areas, solar panels are not allowed. Here geothermal energy can be a perfect solution to take advantage of renewal energy sources, though. Also in extremely cloudy and rainy climate zones geothermal energy works stable, continuously producing heating or electric energy over the whole year.

However, the very best solution is to combine both renewal energy sources to heat houses and always dispose of enough natural energy to heat and drive the building.

About the author

Following nature’s example, Baufritz has been planning and constructing ecologically sustainable buildings for over 120 years. High-quality, pollutant-tested building and insulation materials are used to create individual architect’s houses that protect people and the environment.