Interview with Spanish Geothermal Technology Platform, GEOPLAT

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Alexander Richter 21 Jan 2013

Interview with Margarita de Gregorio on GEOPLAT, the Spanish Geothermal Technology Platform, original published by Piensa En Geotermia.

1. What is GEOPLAT and what is its mission?

GEOPLAT is the Geothermal Spanish Technology Platform, a technological tool which belongs to the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. The objective is, through the Ministry, to align Spanish geothermal priorities in R&D+i (Research, Development and innovation) to R&D+i financing tools already available in Spain and Europe. This will maximize the opportunities for Spanish companies to participate in R&D+i projects, push geothermal technologies up the learning curve, and increase domestic industry competitiveness.

GEOPLAT has been performing this task since its inception in 2009, and has the support of APPA High Enthalpy Geothermal Department, which is part of the platform. Currently, GEOPLAT  is constituted of 193 institutions, 134 of which are companies (mostly small and medium-sized companies), 18 universities, 14 technology centers and foundations, 13 public entities, 10 associations and 4 Public Research Departments.

GEOPLAT has other functions derived from this nature as consolidated forum which brings together the Spanish geothermal sector. Through the Platform, relevant information is transferred to the industry and furthermore, we are going to instrumentalize the official geothermal energy training in Spain, according to standardized parameters issued by the European geothermal training Committee, which has been established in Brussels.

2. What are the expectations of deep geothermal in Spain?

Deep geothermal energy in Spain has complicated perspectives. This complication comes from the Spanish electricity sector’s situation itself, which is experiencing one of its most convulsive stages due to the tariff deficit (difference between the cost of generating electricity and what customers pays for it) which is taking a disproportionate dimension. This fact and other intrinsic constraints of the Spanish electricity market have created a regulatory situation which discourages the development of renewable energy. In January 2012, a moratorium was declared indefinitely suppressing economic incentives for new installations from renewable sources. In December 2012, a new law established a 7% tax on the value of the electricity production from all types of plants (renewables included). Unfortunately both regulations greatly complicate the viability of geothermal projects in Spain.

3. Spain is a leader in renewables like concentrated solar power, photovoltaic, wind, but what can Spanish companies provide in the development of deep geothermal energy worldwide?

Spain has been world leader in renewable energy but, unfortunately, due to the previously discussed situation, our country is not currently well positioned at this moment. However, Spanish companies have a substantial ‘knowhow’ within the renewable sector which is being utilized in other countries, developing significant projects. Spanish companies with implications in deep geothermal industry also could export their technologies and services. During this “impasse”, companies can participate in consortia to develop R&D+ i projects. In Spain, deep geothermal projects have already been funded under “INNPACTO” from the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, and by the European Framework Programme, as well as NER – 300. Some of these projects aim to build a geothermal power plant (electricity), so through these programs we could eventually have the first installation in Spain.

4. GEOPLAT is the current president of the Geothermal Technology Panel, could you briefly describe the present European geothermal market and which countries have higher expectations?

Exactly, GEOPLAT holds the presidency of the European Technology Platform on Renewable Heating & Cooling (RHC-Platform). This platform is structured in four panels: biomass, geothermal, solar thermal, and other horizontal working groups. It has been actively promoted by the European Commission given that heating and cooling represent a high percentage of the European energy bill. This is because renewable technologies, which are already been consolidated to produce electricity, haven´t been included in the HVAC field, so it continues depending heavily on fossil fuels to heat and cool spaces, with the subsequent costs that entail when dealing with non-native fuels. The European Commission understands how KEY the use of renewable sources are within the building field, particularly under the 2010/31/EU directive related to the energy savings in the buildings sector, published in 2010. This must be developed in Spain as well.

Each year geothermal energy in Europe gets more and more consolidated. Shallow geothermal is a reality in the northern Europe countries and the deep geothermal energy, besides the widespread use in Iceland, is a reality in countries like Italy and increasingly so in Germany. The possibilities offered by EGS systems (enhanced geothermal systems) in those territories where the traditional geothermal resource doesn´t exist are immense, so in the next few years we will witness a major development of this type of geothermal drilling across Europe.

5. The Geothermal Technology Panel published the document “Strategic Research Priorities for Geothermal Technology“, what are the most significant priorities in geothermal research at European level?

Geothermal energy priorities are divided into two main groups, on one hand would be the shallow geothermal sector and on the other hand the deep geothermal sector. Specifically, deep geothermal strategic research lines has been defined in the Geothermal Strategic Research Agenda (RHC – Platform) which are closely in line with the Spanish geothermal sector and reflected in their Strategic Research Agenda GEOPLAT published in 2011. This publication covers a wide range of fields from geothermal resource research: databases, modeling reservoirs tools, risk assessment, to other fields like drilling, production technologies, co-generation, district heating/cooling and EGS systems. Although there are high enthalpy plants producing electricity and heat in a commercial level, there is still a long road ahead in the technology field of this renewable technology. Progress in R&D+i must minimize risks allowing for a much more accessible way, as well as to bring down investment costs to make it more competitive with other energy alternatives. This sector has significant challenges ahead and I´m confident that we´ll succeed. This is largely due to the efforts of the national and European geothermal industry, which is in a structured and coordinated way. Geothermal energy is a renewable energy still enigmatic for many, so the deployment and consolidation in Spain it seems, are at the very least exciting.

We would like to thanks to Margarita de Gregorio and GEOPLAT their time and for conducting this interview.

The interview was published in Spanish on ThinkGeoEnergy’s sister publication, Piensa En Geotermia.