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Interview: István Pári, of Geonardo Environmental Technologies on Mayors’ Geothermal Club

View over Budapest, Hungary (source: flickr/ Rodefeld, creative commons)
Francisco Rojas 29 Sep 2015

The Conference will take place October 8, 2015 followed by a field trip on October 9, 2015. Participation of the event is free.

ThinkGeoEnergy will be attending and speaking at the upcoming inaugural conference of the Mayors’ Geothermal Club. This event is an international geothermal district heating conference and matchmaking event.
In preparation for the event we spoke with István Pári, of Geonardo Environmental Technologies who is organising the event as part the Geothermal Communities project.
The project is funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7).
The Conference will take place October 8, 2015 followed by a field trip on October 9, 2015. Participation of the event is free and you can register via this website: https://www.b2match.eu/mayors-geothermal-club

What role you see communities and municipalities play in the renewable energy context?

As it is stated in the Cities, Towns and Renewable Energy – Yes In My Front Yard issued by the International Energy Agency in 2009 it is within the powers of local governments to influence the energy choices of their citizens. Several leading and progressive cities and towns have already taken innovative decisions to enhance the deployment and use of renewable energy resources within their geographic boundaries. Since the beginning of this decade, and for the first time ever, over 50% of the world’s population now live in urban environments. In addition according to the United Nations’ Population Division „In 2014 close to half of the world’s urban population lives in settlements with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants..[1] These proportions will continue to grow over the next few decades. The energy infrastructure that every city and town depends on will therefore need to be continually adapted and upgraded if it is to meet the ever-increasing demands for energy services. This provides the opportunity for local government leaders to encourage increased deployment of renewable energy systems and hence gain the multi-benefits they offer.

In OECD countries, many cities have already taken initiatives to reduce their energy demand through improved efficiency and conservation in an endeavour to reduce their dependence on imported energy and reduce their carbon footprints. Analysis confirms that, in many cases, the increased uptake of renewable energy technologies can also be an economically viable solution to energy security and climate change mitigation, especially when all the other co-benefits are taken into account. However, only a small proportion of local governments worldwide have developed policies and projects specifically to better utilise their local renewable energy resources and capture the benefits.[2]

Can you give us a little bit of background on the idea behind the Mayors’ Geothermal Club? What is the key motivation behind the Club and what are its key areas of focus?

When we launched the GEOCOM project in 2010 we were driven by one goal, to prove that large-scale investments, such as a geothermal-based district heating system can be a viable option even for small to very small communities. This requires of course adequate planning, securing the necessary funding and the most efficient utilisation of the available resources. The three pilot sites of Galanta (SK), Mórahalom (HU) and Montieri (IT) (16500, 6500 and 1200 inhabitants respectively) successfully demonstrated the sound nature of our initial concept. We realised early on that our best practices could be taken by other communities all over Europe that has some proven geothermal potential. For this reason we decided to launch this longer term initiative within the project that is hoped to last beyond the duration of GEOCOM and will eventually provide a niche platform for those, primarily European municipalities that has the geothermal potential under their feet but so far were lacking those structured information that could enable them to successfully initiate their own geothermal projects. At the moment, despite the efforts of some dedicated organisations, such as the European Geothermal Energy Council, the public’s general understanding of geothermal energy and the utilisation of this renewable energy source doesn’t match its true potential and falls far behind compared to the solar or wind-based solutions. The MGC is hoped to help paving the way for front running municipalities to utilise this virtually infinite resource for the benefit of their communities and to inspire followers to engage similar ventures in the future.

The information available through the MGC is planned to be structured into three main pillars: Policy framework, available financial instruments and technology know-how/engineering solutions. When these solutions will meet the needs of the member municipalities an increased number of investments – similar to the ones carried out within the frame of GEOCOM – are expected to be launched in the near future.

Geothermal is only one of the renewable energy options for municipalities, where do you see its key role for the future?

Geothermal, just like the other renewable sources has its limitations in terms of its spatial availability. The same way you do not plant a CSP plant beyond the Arctic Circle, you do not consider geothermal for areas where the heat flux is not sufficient to support such a concept. However such areas are rare.

Geothermal energy can be utilised for either power generation or heat production or the combination of both. The key issues of large scale power production using geothermal sources within Europe outside Iceland, Larderello and some areas is Turkey are still to be tackled and cannot be hoped to come over without the further development of the EGC concept and related technology solutions. On the other hand geothermal energy is readily available at current technology levels for heating purposes. The most efficient way of utilising a relatively low temperature resource for such purpose is district heating. Danish examples (eg. Thisted, Sønderborg) proved that even relatively low temperature waters (~45 degrees Celsius) are sufficient to operate geothermal-based district heating systems. While some areas of continental Europe (Ile-de-France, Upper Rheine basin, Pannonian basin) have traditionally above the average heat-fluxes which firmly support the local geothermal district heating or small scale power generation projects. It is evident if we abandon natural gas based solutions at areas where geothermal energy (even with lower temperatures) can offer an alternative for heating, Europe can significantly cut back on its green house gas emissions and contribute towards a greener economy, while reducing its dependency on foreign fuels.

 

What do you think is needed to help municipalities in getting started on their geothermal projects?

Geothermal initiatives are traditionally considered high risk and high capital cost investments, because of the uncertainties of the geology below and the drilling costs that are associated with accessing the reservoirs. Even though long term calculations would support the viability of such a project the initial investment costs might kill the project at an early stage. The investments performed within GEOCOM were lavishly supported by the FP7 Concert III program of the European Commission and by the Regional Government of Tuscany, but the number of such programs is quite low compared to the demand. In the meantime rate of return calculations derived from the available GEOCOM monitoring data support the concept that such investments have the potential to operate with a positive balance from day one. This translates to the scenario where a municipality is able to pay the mortgage of the loan that was obtained to deliver the geothermal based district heating system simply using the amount of saving generated by the new system on a monthly basis compared to the out dated CH-based solutions.

The technology infrastructure for such initiatives is very well defined and quite advanced. The single most significant bottleneck remains to secure the financials to initiate geothermal district heating projects. Large financial institutions, and banks with a green energy portfolio would have to put more emphasis on introducing instruments and financial tools that’d be available for such projects.

How can the European Union and its programs support geothermal projects?

We were pleased to see that in the 2014/2015 Work Programme of Horizon 2020 there were a few calls dedicated to deep geothermal proposals, on the other hand the most recent draft work programmes for 2016/2017 seem to favour shallow geothermal initiatives, that have a better use as individual heating solutions than district scale applications. In the mean time the Smart Cities and Communities initiative, the successor of the CONCERTO program, keeps on targeting large metropolitan areas with multi million inhabitants rather than small-medium sized communities. Unfortunately we do not have the capacities to follow the allocations of the structural funds for geothermal related investments on a member state level, but the trends in Hungary is quite encouraging in that sense (Barcs, Gy?r, Miskolc).

One of the key goals of the Mayors’ Geothermal Club is to gather and unite the critical mass of communities that are willing to switch to geothermal and by doing so to increase the lobby power of geothermal energy on a European level. We believe that beyond a certain point the will of these municipalities cannot be ignored and steps will be made towards more supporting policies and widen the range of thematic programs.

What is the main goal for the conference that will now take place?

The primary goal of the current conference is to understand if our concept has the necessary support from the European municipalities the Club intends to represent. Geonardo aimed to draft an agenda and invite those internationally recognised key experts on the already mentioned three pillars (policy, finance, best practices) who could share their ideas and experience in relation with the long term goals of the Club. Their mere presence is a guarantee of high level and quality discussion and we trust that those participants who decide to join us will take away a lot of useful ideas and knowledge at the end of the day and will sign up to be the founding members of the MGC.

What will be key highlights of the event?

The MGC conference will not only facilitate the discussion of a number of high priority topics related to geothermal energy in Europe but will also provide the opportunity for the participants to liaise with each other during the dedicated match making sessions aiming to secure future cooperation and initiate potential future projects as a result. The first day of the conference’s indoor section will be followed by a site visit on the next day. The full day trip will cover the recently developed geothermal district heating system of the City of Szeged and the Hungarian demonstration site of the GEOCOM project at Mórahalom.

The high ranking EU officials and the head of Reykjavik District Heating, one of the most successful district heating project in Europe as keynote speakers will be followed by three thematic panels dedicated to the relevant EU policy framework, the available financial instruments and the best practices respectively. The first day of the conference will be ending with an evening reception at the venue to facilitate further networking activities accompanied by some nice Hungarian wines.

How can municipalities participate in the conference and the Mayors’ Geothermal Club?

For registering to the conference please visit the event’s official site at https://www.b2match.eu/mayors-geothermal-club where you could find additional information on the agenda, read about the invited speakers and familiarise yourself with the Mayors’ Geothermal Club concept in general.

Signing up for the MGC will take place on the spot during the Conference. Once the core of the Club will be formulated an online registration will be set up to facilitate the registration of those who wants to join the MGC at a later date.

[1] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division – World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision ISBN 978-92-1-151517-6

[2] Cities, Towns and Renewable Energy – Yes In My Front Yard; IEA issue; 2009