Is the geothermal energy industry in Canada gaining ground?

Is the geothermal energy industry in Canada gaining ground? Drilling rig on site of geothermal project, Saskatchewan/ Canada (source: DEEP Corp.)
Alexander Richter 14 Sep 2020

The positive news from the geothermal project of DEEP Earth Energy Production in Saskatchewan are hopefully a kick and positive spark for ongoing and future geothermal development in Canada.

Having been involved or followed the geothermal energy development ambitions for Canada for nearly 15 years, the past week clearly indicated a huge shift. With wells drilled and – likely more importantly – successfully tested for the geothermal power project in Saskatchewan by our friends of DEEP, things seem to be on a positive path.

We are following efforts on direct use research conducted in Quebec, see concrete efforts in the Yukon, continued work on projects in British Columbia, Canadian technology players making inroads and are engaged internationally, so these are positive signs, yet will they push geothermal development in the country over a certain threshold?

In a recent “in-depth” article in the Narwhal, a Canadian publication, the author describes how several projects are underway in the western provinces of the country and could mean a new era for the still today mostly untapped geothermal resources and the opportunity in job creation for a struggling oil and gas sector.

The article describes the geothermal project of DEEP at Estevan, Saskatchewan describing the costly drilling campaign, efforts under way for a project near Grande Praire in Alberta, and the “heyday” for geothermal back in the mid-1070s to mid-1980s. Back then there was a great geothermal research program that though abruptly was cut.

Today there are two organisations that work on pushing geothermal development and research in Canada. The Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA) as an industry representation and Geothermal Canada, as an organisation focused on “advancing science and promoting geothermal research and development in Canada”.

In the early 2000s, Canadian companies made inroads into geothermal development in the U.S. building on the resources industry experience of investors and the Toronto Stock Exchange. These companies pushed geothermal development in the U.S. and while consolidation and some challenges in development made most of the companies disappear in their original set up, they are the basis for a lot of the projects and plants that managed to get off the ground between 2006 and today.

At the same time geothermal development ambitions have followed the folks active in the industry. Pushing development in the western provinces of Canada, Borealis GeoPower, Terrapin Geothermics, Yukon Energy and the University of Alberta have been active. Beyond the western provinces, Deep Earth Energy Resources (DEEP) in Saskatchewan and INRS in Quebec have been developing projects or are heavily involved in researching what geothermal could do in Canada.

A great short description of current projects can be found in a recent article in the Environmental Journal.

It mentions Alberta No.1 a 5 MW geothermal power project in Alberta, Razor Energy Corp. co-production project in Alberta, the geothermal project by DEEP in Saskatchewan, the Eavor-lite project (closed-loop) in Alberta, Clarke Lake and Lakelse Lake First Nation led geothermal projects in British Columbia, Canoe Reach a project by Borealis GeoPower.

The potential and background to Canada’s geothermal potential can be found in this article by Clean Energy Canada from July 2020.

So what does this mean, will we see more development in Canada or is this simply a drop in the ocean? I guess time will tell and the current challenges in the oil industry particularly in Alberta and the Prairies, as well as a drive towards more renewable energy could mean a certain momentum building. But the projects to this day are too small and while they have an important local impact, it will have to be seen if and how wider support from the government could help push things forward.

Note: The author is member of the Board of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA)