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Spreading the “Geothermal Culture” – the lack of public awareness on what geothermal has to offer

Geothermal energy overview (source: GeoVision report by the U.S. DOE)
Alexander Richter 22 Aug 2019

Public awareness and perception continues to be a crucial element for the geothermal sector. Essentially the public is not as aware of what geothermal energy has to offer compared to other renewables, so the recent U.S. GeoVision report.

A recent article published by Dimitri Aymard, a geothermal reservoir engineer with the University of Auckland, looks into the challenge of public perception of geothermal. This is by far nothing new and something we have not talked about before, but it is always great to read again as it strengthens the point of why ThinkGeoEnergy was founded years ago … to essentially give the industry a platform to promote and share information.

Here the article, which he gladly accepted to be republished here. (A French version is part of the original article, link below)

Spreading the “Geothermal Culture” by Dimitri Aymard

After reading the recently GeoVision report (May 2019) from the U.S. Department of Energy, I was really surprised by this plot highlighting the public’s awareness of the impacts of several energy sources on our societies within the next 20 years.

What does that survey mean?

The survey was conducted in Italy (Sicilia), first European country in the top 10 countriesaround the world producing geothermal energy with 945 GW installed capacity.

The public’s optimism toward geothermal energy was more than twice lower than his optimism for solar and wind energies. Furthermore, around 40% of respondents couldn’t even say if this energy would have a positive or negative effect in the future!

This tends to show that geothermal energy is not commonly known by the public, including in a country such as Italy, where it is used at a larger scale than in many other countries in the world.

Conclusion: In order to create a greener Energy Mix, we need to make sure people know about options, and build their opinion while being fully aware !

Why is it important to be aware of Geothermal Energy?

Geothermal energy, or natural heat of the Earth, is one of the most obvious renewableenergy available for us. We currently use the word “Green” for renewables, but all of them have an impact on our environment. This energy has one of the lowest in direct use utilization and greenhouse gas emissions from geothermal power production are generally lower than traditional base load thermal energy power generation.

Geothermal resources, available 24/7, present huge potential to provide sustainable and reliable energy. Even if the set-up of a geothermal power generation plant needs a specific geological context, the deployment of geothermal direct-use installations can be, in theory, everywhere.

This energy is naturally less familiar to the public since it is often at great depth, thus invisible, except for some features as geysers or hot springs (NZ, USA, Italy…). Yet, its awareness and popularization will influence policies, create strong engagement and facilitate land access, among other crucial topics for geothermal development. Furthermore, it should engage insurances or government in supporting drilling operations or field exploration.

Conclusion: Improving global awareness about this energy is a crucial topic for geothermal development.

 

Geothermal Starter-Kit

Heat energy from the Earth exists in varying subsurface contexts and access can require different technologies. For instance in few geothermal reservoirs, temperatures in excess of 300ºC are recorded and it requires a specific drilling strategy. The first figure below introduces that one subsurface environment might be turned into many types of geothermal energy conversion :

  • Geothermal heat pumps – Heating or cooling houses and districts
  • Hydrothermal – Generating electricity
  • Enhanced Geothermal System – Generating electricity or supplying industries

Moreover, heat pumps can also be associated, as presented in hydrothermal section, with production and injection wells, pumping water with constant temperature (e.g. 12°C) in shallow aquifers (e.g. 100 m depth), taking calories, and reinjecting it (e.g. 8°C) in the same hydrogeological unit to be heated again.

Conclusion: This energy is sustainable as far as it is being used on a proper plan of production in each conversion process. Well’s monitoring is a key element with these technologies, which is why we create 3D geothermal models that can forecast performance. (1)

Focus on installed capacity in Europe

The EGEC Geothermal Market Report 2018 (June 2019) highlights geothermal developments in Europe. For many years, some countries have been generating a part of their electricity production with geothermal energy (Iceland, Italy, Turkey). Indeed, in these countries, electricity is correlated with the availability of high temperature resources at shallow depths.

Since the last years, the European EGS pilot plant has been successfully developed at Soultz-sous-Forêts (North East of France). Still, other resources shall be used now with these new well-established technologies, in France, United Kingdom, Greece…

Finally, geothermal direct uses for heating, cooling and heat pumps continues to be more and more popular even if the deployment is far below the real resource potential. For instance, shallow geothermal system are still under use whereas :

“Shallow geothermal resources assisted by heat pumps can be used everywhere in Europe, utilising geothermal energy even at very low temperatures to supply heating and cooling to buildings of all sizes”

Conclusion: The geothermal culture implementation in Europe is in progress but the resource is really under use. Since 20 years, geothermal developments have received only 4% of total 3.6 billon € UE funding for renewables (2).

Conclusion: Using the natural heat of the Earth, we can easily and safely reduce our ecological print, even if the best way will always be to also reduce our energy consumption.

(1) For more information on 3D modelling: dimitri.aymard@auckland.ac.nz

(2) Study on impacts of EU actions supporting the development of renewable energy technologies, presented on 20/09/2018 in Brussels by Trinomics

 

Source: Dimitry Aymard, “Spread the ‘Geothermal Culture'” on LinkedIn (including a French version) – republished with permission