Article on GreenRock Energy and its Perth project

Article on GreenRock Energy and its Perth project Skyline of Perth, West Australia (source: flickr/amandabhslater, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 20 Jul 2010

In an article in Australia, ABC looks into GreenRock Energy and its project in Perth in Western Australia that tries to utilize geothermal heat for cooling with absorption chiller technology.

Since 2004, Challenge Stadium in the Perth suburb of Mt Claremont has used geothermal technology to heat its swimming pools. The stadium uses a geothermal supply about 700 to 1000 metres below the ground.

Now, one Perth company plans to take the concept a whole lot further, or deeper, and use the energy for cooling.

Richard Beresford is GreenRock Energy’s managing director and says the geothermal energy below the city of Perth is potentially a huge resource.

“We’re planning on drilling deeper than has currently been drilled in the metropolitan area to get higher temperatures, around 3,000 metres.”

In the process, water is pumped below the earth’s surface, and when it returns it’s very hot. If the temperature is high enough, the heat energy can be transferred into electricity and the water is recycled back into the ground.

The company has teamed up with the Geothermal Centre of Excellence at the University of WA.

Mr Beresford says the temperature of the water in the UWA project will not be hot enough to produce electricity but he believes it will be sufficient to drive technology called an absorption chiller, which produces cold water.

“The absorption chiller is not new technology, but it is relatively new to think about using geothermal energy as the heat source for them.

“That chilled water at UWA would then be circulated into their existing system which goes around the campus feeding the various air conditioning units.”

Professor Hui Hui Tong Chua, from UWA’s Geothermal Centre, is excited about the project.

“This is talking about a world-first application of geothermal air conditioning on such a campus.”

Mr Beresford says the two wells will be drilled on the Crawley campus.

“The site is right next to their existing plant room where they have the existing electricity and chillers.

“The absorption chillers will be plumbed in to the same system and controlled by the same system they’ve already got.”

Hole in one

“One of the advantages of geothermal is that it’s there 24 hours a day seven days a week, whereas some of the other renewable technologies really rely on the sun shining or the wind blowing,” Mr Beresford said.

He says by using the energy for air conditioning in large complexes such as hospitals and shopping centres in Perth, it could reduce the demand on the electricity system, when it is at its peak.

“Perth and Western Australia has a huge resource right under our feet here, that hasn’t really been fully explored.”

Professor Tong Chua says it will bring several advantages to the university.

“We aim to replace the base-load that is otherwise generated by mechanical chillers with this new technology.

“That would put us at the forefront of the adoption of renewable and sustainable energy source for cooling.”

The professor also says he believes it will save about 2,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year.

The road ahead

The State’s Mines Minister Norman Moore recently announced funding for 62 drilling projects in WA with all but two drilling for oil, gas or minerals.

The remaining projects to receive the $150,000 were geothermal industries.

“It is encouraging to see two geothermal projects among the successful applicants, demonstrating support for alternative energy sources,” Mr Moore says.

Mr Beresford is pushing ahead.

“We’re looking at this project to be the first to prove the concept and we certainly believe there’s going to be several other developments excited about the opportunity of using geothermal energy.”

But GreenRock Energy has a long way to go to secure funding for the project.

Professor Tong Chua says they are working to get approvals for the project from the state, local and environmental agencies.

Mr Beresford is also working on funding.

“We’re in the process of finalising an agreement in the next couple of weeks with the Federal Government for a geothermal drilling program grant of $7 million which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by us.”

The company hopes drilling at the UWA site will begin early next year with the first cold water supply to the air conditioning system by mid-2012.

Mr Beresford says the project has attracted keen interest.

“Developers and owners of buildings are keeping a watch on what we’re doing and once we’ve proven that the concept works, then they’ll be looking at using it in their own developments.”

Source: ABC news