Dig Deep-One of the answers to decarbonisation & energy security is right under our feet but it isn’t oil and gas
Today (2nd June 23) I have published a review into Deep Geothermal heat and energy options for the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
That must be too good to be true.
That was my reaction when first introduced to deep geothermal technology.
An environmentally friendly, dependable and cost effective source of heat that can be found right under out feet?
I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that deep geothermal, is in fact, just as good as it sounds. I have spent 12 months speaking to industry experts, visited a deep geothermal plant in Germany and commissioned a new academic study by Durham University to support the work of the review.
Deep Geothermal technology uses the heat from naturally occurring water sources deep underground to generate a large amount of usable heat and energy. Think about naturally occurring hot springs like the famous Roman Baths. Modern technology can allow it to be accessed artificially through drilling into aquifers to access warm water below.
Heat exchangers transmit the heat through to homes and buildings. The sites are chosen exactly because the geology allows water to flow at low pressures, rather than needing to use high pressures to “frack” the rock to create artificial flows (which is why the technology is supported by leading environmental groups).
I was introduced to the technology because of its great potential locally in Cheshire where I am an MP as we sit above the hot underground aquifer known as the Cheshire Basin.
Deep geothermal energy is heating 250,000 homes in Paris and across France more than 600 MWh are produced annually as the government aims to increase the number of schemes by 40 percent by 2030. Munich is pouring in one billion euros through to 2035 to develop the geothermal energy and make the city’s heating carbon neutral. Germany is already producing more than 353 MWh annually and the government is targeting at least 100 new geothermal projects.
As part of my review I was able to visit a plant in Pullach, a suburb of Munich. I got to see for myself how quietly and efficiently this hot water can be utilised. No one would know the little building I visited next to a park and a school was heating the local swimming pool, businesses, town hall and hundreds of homes.
The home heating challenge
Getting to net zero by 2050 is going to require us to pull every possible lever. Transitioning our heating systems is a particular challenge.
The UK has more than 28.5 million homes, and another 1.9 million other buildings – offices, hospitals, shops, warehouses and more. The majority of these are heated by gas boilers, which also provide hot water. Nearly a fifth of all the UK’s emissions come from buildings.
Deep geothermal has its greatest potential in meeting this heating challenge. It will also help reduce demand on the grid created by transitioning all of our heating to electricity.
What needs to be done?
Like wind and solar at their outset, long term financial incentives would help unlock millions in capital investment and kick start the industry. This transfers all the risk to the private sector instead of using taxpayer grants.
This does not need to be a repeat of open ended subsidies that drove the wind and solar industries forward. Proposals from industry asking for a capped amount of support which would still produce the results we need.
The strength of our oil & gas sector can still yet provide us an advantage as we decarbonise with 37,000 direct jobs and 250,000 in the supply chain that could still be redeployed to deep geothermal.
Dip deep to level up
As part of my report I commissioned Durham University’s Energy Institute to review data about where we know the best combination of hot water and rocks are to identify the top 45 places to locate plants. The aim was to kick start local stakeholders into driving forward projects from the ground up.
But in an unexpected but very stark finding, 6 of these 45 sites are in the top 10 of the index used by government to identify areas in need of levelling up. 44% of the list of high potential locations for deep geothermal fall within the top 100 levelling up locations. That is 3 times the amount you would expect as a result of chance.
This gives us yet another reason to look closely at this technology. If we want to secure public support for the energy transition we need to ensure government investment to deliver it is spread to those places most in need of new jobs and opportunities.
I hope my report and other recent efforts by others to highlight the opportunity deep geothermal presents will spark the beginning of an effort to dip deep on geothermal and reap the rewards this will provide.
Thanks to IGas Energy plc for facilitating and funding a visit to Pullach to view their deep geothermal network. Thanks to Conor Burns MP for his advice on the conduct of a review. Thanks to Lee Anderson MP for advice and guidance on coal mine water technology. Thanks to Padraig Hanly of GT Energy UK for providing advice to this review. Thanks also to Prof Jon Gluyas (Director Durham Energy Institute), Corinna Abesser (British Geological Survey), The Renewable Energy Association, The Coal Authority, The Eden Project, Pullach Municipal Council, Ryan Law (Geothermal Engineering Ltd), the Geothermal Energy Advancement Association, The Geological Society and the House of Commons Library