Wed, 02 February, 2022
With COP-26 still fresh in our minds and with so many nations committing to reducing carbon emissions, there is no better opportunity to push forward geothermal energy resources as a cornerstone for government policies.
The flexibility of geothermal is a key aspect in helping to reach the demanding goals set out at COP-26, underlined by the upwardly spiralling costs of both oil and gas, forcing so many people into “fuel-poverty,” where they are forced to make the harsh decision of “eat or heat (or cool).”
The cost of natural gas is particularly sensitive as it is the primary energy source for the transition away from coal fired power stations and oil systems. Add to this the direct use of gas for domestic and industrial heating, along with many industrial processes including steel manufacture and cement processing, and it is easy to see the supply/demand pressures that are being exerted. And, of course, there is still the carbon dioxide emissions conundrum that cannot be ignored.
Of the many EU-funded research projects, the GeoDrill collaborative group, consisting of GeoDrill, OptiDrill, GeoHex, GeoSmart and GeoCoat, have pooled their collective research and innovation skills, with help and support from the Horizon Results Booster (HRB) programme, to address many of the issues that the exploitation of geothermal energy currently faces.
Speaking on the important role that geothermal energy could play in the future, Dr. Namrata Kale, of TWI, said, “Geothermal energy takes so many forms and offers so many solutions, it is vitally important that its deployment is fast-tracked. It will be key to decarbonising domestic heating throughout Europe (and globally), as over 50% of energy consumption is for heating. So, supplying geothermal heat direct to communal and district heating schemes makes such sense. As there are fewer losses associated with converting one energy source into electrical power and then converting it back to heat, the efficiencies will increase. And, by freeing up electrical power required elsewhere, carbon emissions can be greatly reduced.”
Reducing the cost of geothermal drilling is one of the obstacles for widespread exploitation of geothermal resources, with Kevin Mallin from Geolorn, who is the technical manager for the Optidrill Project, saying, “Data shows that drilling operations consume a large portion of CAPEX spending. So, increasing the lifecycle times of drilling equipment and reducing the uncertainties of drilling outcomes will go a long way to helping lower costs. The GeoDrill and OptiDrill projects are developing novel drilling and downhole data technologies, that help inform so that optimal parameters are achieved.”
Geothermal resources, by their very nature, mean that equipment needs to operate in harsh environments, as Dr Kale elaborates, “Many geothermal environments are extremely harsh, with high temperatures, pressures and corrosive agents present. So, even when we reduce the cost of drilling, we need to increase the lifetime of materials used in the production of geothermal energy. This includes coatings for components that are deployed, the systems used to extract the heat energy when the temperatures are low (heat exchangers), and maximising the flexibility of supply with Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) plants used in Combined Heat and Power production (CHP). GeoSmart, GeoHex and GeoCoat are addressing most of these issues through intense research.”
Aside from the technical challenges, there is a need to improve public knowledge of the potential that geothermal has as a renewable energy source, as Kevin Mallin explained, “Geothermal is very much a hidden resource and not something that the general population is widely aware of. Therefore, getting the public to engage with the possibilities that geothermal can bring has to be part of our development strategy. We also need to ensure that policy makers include its usage in any decarbonisation strategy, which is something that can prove challenging when you consider politicians have quite short spans in power and often they can be gone by the time geothermal developments are completed. Rightly or wrongly, politicians make policies that win votes, and wind farms and solar farms are relatively quick turnarounds (no pun intended) and are hugely visible. With the help of the HRB programme, we are making inroads into solving these issues.”
You can find out more about the work of the GeoDrill Policy Group in the policy document, below: HRB-GeoDrill Policy Brief-Jan22 - pdf - 646kb
The GeoSmart project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 818576
The Geo-Drill project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 815319
The GeoCoat project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 764086
The GeoHex project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 851917