A Visual Crash Course on Geothermal Energy
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A Visual Crash Course on Geothermal Energy

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A Visual Crash Course on Geothermal Energy

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Geothermal is a lesser-known type of renewable energy that uses heat from the Earth’s molten core to produce electricity.

While this unique feature gives it key benefits over solar and wind, it also suffers from high costs and geographic restrictions. Because of this, few countries have managed to produce geothermal energy at scale.

In this infographic, we’ve used a combination of diagrams and charts to give you a high level overview of this sustainable energy source.

How Geothermal Works

Geothermal energy is produced by accessing reservoirs of hot water that are found several miles below the earth’s surface. In certain parts of the planet, this water naturally breaks through the surface, creating what’s known as a hot spring (or in some cases, a geyser).

When accessed via a well, this pressurized water rises up and rapidly expands into steam. That steam is used to spin a turbine, which then drives an electric generator.

Further along the process, excess steam is condensed back into water as it passes through a cooling tower. An injection well pumps this water back into the Earth to ensure sustainability.

Where Is Geothermal Energy Being Used?

As of 2021, global geothermal power generation amounted to 16 gigawatts (GW). Only a handful of countries have surpassed the 1GW milestone.

CountryInstalled Capacity (GW)
🇺🇸 U.S.3.7
🇮🇩 Indonesia2.3
🇵🇭 Philippines1.9
🇹🇷 Turkey1.7
🇳🇿 New Zealand1
🇲🇽 Mexico1
🇮🇹 Italy0.9
🇰🇪 Kenya0.9
🇮🇸 Iceland0.8
🇯🇵 Japan 0.6
🌎 Rest of World1.1

To give these numbers context, consider the following datapoints:

  • America’s 3.7 GW capacity is split across 61 geothermal plants.
  • The world’s largest solar plant, the Bhadla Solar Park, has a maximum output of 2.2 GW
  • The world’s largest hydroelectric plant, the Three Gorges Dam, can produce up to 22.5 GW

While geothermal plants clearly produce less power, they do have benefits over other types of renewables. For example, geothermal energy is not impacted by day-night cycles, weather conditions, or seasons.

The Big Picture

We now look at a second dataset, which shows the global contribution of each type of renewable energy. These figures are as of April 2022, and were sourced from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

TypeInstalled Capacity (% of total)Installed Capacity (GW)
Hydro40%1226
Solar28%858
Wind27%827
Others
(Geothermal)
5%
(0.5%)
153
(15*)
Total100%3064

*Geothermal’s total capacity in this dataset differs from the previous value of 16GW. This is due to differing sources and rounding.

One reason for the slow adoption of geothermal energy is that they can only be built in regions that have suitable geological features (such as places where there is volcanic activity).

To expand on that point, consider the following data from Fitch Solutions, which shows the forecasted growth of geothermal energy capacity by region.

growth of geothermal energy

Fitch believes that over the next decade, the majority of new geothermal capacity will be installed in Asia. On the flipside, investment in North America and Western Europe (NAWE) is expected to decrease.

Over the coming years, NAWE will experience a gradual slowdown in geothermal capacity additions as we expect that investments will be crowded out by cheaper wind and solar projects.
– Fitch Solutions

The top markets for geothermal are expected to be Indonesia, the Philippines, and New Zealand, which all lie along the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Ring of Fire is a path along the Pacific Ocean where the majority of volcanic activity occurs.

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Energy

Visualizing the Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production

How much oil, coal, and natural gas do we extract each year? See the scale of annual fossil fuel production in perspective.

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The Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Fossil fuels have been our predominant source of energy for over a century, and the world still extracts and consumes a colossal amount of coal, oil, and gas every year.

This infographic visualizes the volume of global fossil fuel production in 2021 using data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.

The Facts on Fossil Fuels

In 2021, the world produced around 8 billion tonnes of coal, 4 billion tonnes of oil, and over 4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

Most of the coal is used to generate electricity for our homes and offices and has a key role in steel production. Similarly, natural gas is a large source of electricity and heat for industries and buildings. Oil is primarily used by the transportation sector, in addition to petrochemical manufacturing, heating, and other end uses.

Here’s a full breakdown of coal, oil, and gas production by country in 2021.

Coal Production

If all the coal produced in 2021 were arranged in a cube, it would measure 2,141 meters (2.1km) on each side—more than 2.5 times the height of the world’s tallest building.

China produced 50% or more than four billion tonnes of the world’s coal in 2021. It’s also the largest consumer of coal, accounting for 54% of coal consumption in 2021.

Rank Country2021 Coal Production
(million tonnes)
% of Total
#1🇨🇳 China 4,126.050%
#2🇮🇳 India 811.310%
#3🇮🇩 Indonesia 614.08%
#4🇺🇸 U.S. 524.46%
#5🇦🇺 Australia 478.66%
#6🇷🇺 Russia 433.75%
#7🇿🇦 South Africa 234.53%
#8🇩🇪 Germany 126.02%
#9🇰🇿 Kazakhstan 115.71%
#10🇵🇱 Poland 107.61%
🌍 Other 600.97%
Total8,172.6100%

India is both the second largest producer and consumer of coal. Meanwhile, Indonesia is the world’s largest coal exporter, followed by Australia.

In the West, U.S. coal production was down 47% as compared to 2011 levels, and the descent is likely to continue with the clean energy transition.

Oil Production

In 2021, the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were the three largest crude oil producers, respectively.

Rank Country2021 Oil Production
(million tonnes)
% of Total
#1🇺🇸 U.S. 711.117%
#2🇷🇺 Russia 536.413%
#3🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia 515.012%
#4🇨🇦 Canada 267.16%
#5🇮🇶 Iraq 200.85%
#6🇨🇳 China 198.95%
#7🇮🇷 Iran 167.74%
#8🇦🇪 UAE 164.44%
#9 🇧🇷 Brazil156.84%
#10🇰🇼 Kuwait 131.13%
🌍 Other 1172.028%
Total4221.4100%

OPEC countries, including Saudi Arabia, made up the largest share of production at 35% or 1.5 billion tonnes of oil.

U.S. oil production has seen significant growth since 2010. In 2021, the U.S. extracted 711 million tonnes of oil, more than double the 333 million tonnes produced in 2010.

Natural Gas Production

The world produced 4,036 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2021. The above graphic converts that into an equivalent of seven billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to visualize it on the same scale as oil and gas.

Here are the top 10 producers of natural gas in 2021:

Rank Country2021 Natural Gas Production
(billion m3)
% of Total
#1🇺🇸 U.S. 934.223%
#2🇷🇺 Russia 701.717%
#3🇮🇷 Iran 256.76%
#4🇨🇳 China 209.25%
#5🇶🇦 Qatar 177.04%
#6🇨🇦 Canada 172.34%
#7🇦🇺 Australia 147.24%
#8🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia 117.33%
#9🇳🇴 Norway 114.33%
#10🇩🇿 Algeria 100.82%
🌍 Other 1106.327%
Total4,036.9100%

The U.S. was the largest producer, with Texas and Pennsylvania accounting for 47% of its gas production. The U.S. electric power and industrial sectors account for around one-third of domestic natural gas consumption.

Russia, the next-largest producer, was the biggest exporter of gas in 2021. It exported an estimated 210 billion cubic meters of natural gas via pipelines to Europe and China. Around 80% of Russian natural gas comes from operations in the Arctic region.

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