Stuff You Should Know | Podcast Review | September 28, 2015 | By

Stuff You Should Know: “Geothermal Energy”

When it comes to geothermal energy, it’s all about location. You can’t just dig a hole in your backyard; you would just have a cold hole in the ground and no energy to speak of.

Google tells me we get geothermal from combining the prefix geo—which is taken from the Greek word γη or γαια meaning “earth”, usually in the sense of “ground or land”—and thermal, meaning of or relating to heat.

So, geothermal means heat of (or from) the Earth. And we use that as energy source. What else is there to know? Sorry Josh and Chuck, but we can probably just leave it at that right?

If you aren’t interested in the fascinating geological history of the Earth and expanding your Earth science knowledge, that simple definition will probably be sufficient for you. Thankfully, if you’re curious to learn a little bit more, Josh Clark and Charles “Chuck” Bryant have you covered this week on Stuff You Should Know.

Josh and Chuck tell us that humans have been reaping the benefits of geothermal heating, via hot springs, for thousands of years. However, the story begins several billion years ago, when the Earth was formed and was a hot cooling ball of fire. Over time, as the Earth developed a crust, its scorching hot inner regions have been finding ways to slowly leak out heat. Believe it or not, Idaho (which, apparently, has more than just potatoes) was the first place to start using our modern means of harnessing geothermal power. Direct geothermal energy was their method of choice, and I may be paraphrasing here, but it’s basically:

  1. Have a known geothermal resource area under the Earth’s surface.
  2. Pipe hot water.
  3. Use a geothermal heat pump to harness the heat energy.
  4. ????????
  5. Profit (or, uh, pay less for energy)!

This energy can be used to power, heat, and cool your home via a geothermal heat pump. Josh and Chuck further dive into other methods of geothermal power, but it appears like new processes continue to develop. I was surprised to hear we even have a method similar to fracking (hydraulic fracturing). It’s intriguing that the green/clean energy alternatives aren’t always so clean. And there’s so much differentiation within categories.  Overall though, geothermal power firmly sits on the clean side of the energy production options.

When it comes to geothermal energy, Josh and Chuck stress that it’s all about location, location. You can’t just dig a hole in your backyard. You would just have a cold hole in the ground. Unless you live in Iceland. In that case, some friendly Icelanders have probably called dibs on all of the good spots. Overall, Iceland gets about 25% of its power from geothermal sources. Maybe that’s how we get such cheap airfare to Reykjavik, which is where Josh and Chuck recommend visiting if you’d like to see the pinnacle of geothermal power. Also known as the place Ben Stiller filmed the modern cinematic classic, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Unlike some other topics, I enjoyed how I am able to summarize this episode rather succinctly and simply: Warm air from inside the Earth rises and is used to create steam. Steam powers a turbine which creates energy that we can store. Unfortunately, it can’t be used in all areas across the globe.

It’ll be fascinating to see where our alternative energy sources take us in the future. There’s some complex gray areas when it comes to cleaner alternative fuel sources, and I’m interested to see where the developing science takes us. For now, geothermal remains a small part of the overall energy production in the world.


A brief note on our other episode from the week, “How Cult Deprogramming Works.”

The cult deprogramming episode is more of a history of insane origins of the first cult deprogramming. The main man—who had absolutely zero experience—began as a quasi-Dog The Bounty Hunter. It’s a compelling story, and I’d wager there’s about a 50/50 shot we end up with either a Netflix or HBO min-series about it at some point.

As someone that has lived well after the cult craze of the 70s and 80s, I had no idea the widespread nature of the hysteria that apparently swept the nation. The response was far from proportional and undoubtedly terrible. Society has come a long way. Or maybe it hasn’t. I’m pretty sure, now, we just throw Kimmy Schmidt into New York City and said, “Good Luck!” Thankfully, she’s unbreakable. To find out some real deprogramming techniques give Josh and Chuck a listen.

About the Author

Nick Wade is a founding writer at Audiologue, where he writes about The Sporkful and Stuff  You Should Know. You can find him at

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