Official start of the Leeuwarden geothermal heat project, Netherlands

Official start of the Leeuwarden geothermal heat project, Netherlands Leeuwarden project website snapshot
Alexander Richter 21 May 2021

The geothermal heat project in Leeuwarden, Netherlands has now officially started under plans that see the first customers being supplied by the end of 2022.

A breakthrough has been achieved in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, the official kick off for the development of the geothermal heat project on May 18, 2021. At the end of 2022, geothermal energy will be used to supply the first buildings in the city with sustainable heat via a heat network, and later entire urban districts.

On the De Zwette V business park on the outskirts of Leeuwarden, there was an unremarkable plot of grassland until recently. This summer Geocombinatie Leeuwarden will drill a first well up to 2.7 kilometers deep in the subsurface. There is, if all goes well, a source that can provide 6,000 to 8,000 homes with sustainable geothermal energy. At the end of the summer, the first drilling will show whether the heat source is really suitable. If so, this large-scale geothermal heat project in Leeuwarden can get the green light.

Geothermal source and heat network

“It is the first time that a geothermal heat source and a heat network for the built environment are being developed simultaneously in the Netherlands,” says Ivar Nijenhuis, director of Geocombinatie Leeuwarden (GCL). This is the consortium of Shell, Energie Beheer Nederland (EBN), Ennatuurlijk and Bouwgroep Dijkstra Draisma that will extract geothermal energy. And of course, the heat network will develop that will supply geothermal energy to companies, offices, healthcare institutions and homes in the city.

Nijenhuis points out that various greenhouse companies in the country already use geothermal energy and that urban heating networks have also been around for a long time. However, a geothermal heat project on this large scale for the built environment is new and will undoubtedly be imitated in the coming years. Research shows that geothermal energy can provide about a quarter of the total heat demand of houses and buildings in the Netherlands.

Geothermal energy as an ideal solution for the built environment

The initiative for the Warmte van Leeuwarden project comes from Bouwgroep Dijkstra Draisma, which already applied for a permit in 2013 to locate a suitable heat source for part of the city. “Cities such as Leeuwarden, Drachten and Sneek have many existing, somewhat older homes. The older the houses are, the worse they are often insulated and the greater the challenge is to make them more sustainable, ”says Biense Dijkstra, director of Bouwgroep Dijkstra Draisma and one of the initiators of this project. “Geothermal heat offers the ideal solution: you make the energy source sustainable. For the newer homes, the sustainable source is also extremely suitable, because these homes already have a much lower energy demand. ”

Much knowledge of the subsurface

In 2013, Bouwgroep Dijkstra Draisma applied for an exploration permit from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate. With the permit in its pocket, the company formed a first consortium with Ennatuurlijk and ECW Energy. When Shell, which took the place of ECW Energy, and EBN stepped in, the project gained momentum. “Shell saw the project in place within two weeks,” Dijkstra recalls. “The company showed real ambition to get started with the extraction of geothermal energy.”

Water at 90 degrees in a permeable rock layer

After drilling the first well, it is tested to determine whether the drilled layer can supply sufficient warm water. “At a depth of 2.7 kilometers, the water has a temperature of 90 to 100 degrees Celsius,” explains Nijenhuis. “During the test we measure the temperature and pressure and based on that data we can calculate how much heat the source can supply. After the test, we decide whether to continue or not, ”he continues. “If we continue, we will drill a second well next year some distance from the first. Warm water comes up through one well and the cooled water goes back into the subsurface via the other well. ”

Immediately also install a heat network

After a successful test drilling, Warmtebedrijf Ennatuurlijk starts immediately with the construction of an approximately 11-kilometer-long heat network for transporting hot water to the city and returning cooled water. “We link our customers from the very beginning, such as the Medical Center Leeuwarden, the offices of Achmea, ING Bank, Friesland College and the Central Government Real Estate Agency, as well as our own heating network in the De Zuidlanden district,” explains Sjoerd de Ruiter, senior project manager for sustainable heat projects. from Ennatuurlijk. “We are also investigating a smart heat supply for the BioLNG factory on the Energy Campus. If everything goes according to plan, we can provide them with sustainable heat from the beginning of 2023. ”

Parallel to this, Ennatuurlijk and GCL, together with Bouwgroep Dijkstra Draisma, are starting on the site with the realization of a beautiful building. One half of this will include a heat exchanger that transfers the heat from the water from the subsoil to the water from the transport pipeline to the city. The energy installation of Ennatuurlijk will be installed in the other half of the building, which will assist in the winter when the demand for heat peaks. This installation also serves as a backup for when the geothermal energy installation is under maintenance, for example.

A project of social importance

Marco Goense is Team Lead Business Development and Asset Management Geo-energy at Energie Beheer Nederland. This company, which participates in the consortium on behalf of the State, contributes additional geological knowledge, experience of doing business in the subsurface and capital. “We connect public and private parties. Regional authorities, for example, would like to see that we as a public party also keep an eye on social interests. After all, the subsurface belongs to all of us. That is why we must develop geothermal energy in a safe and responsible manner. In any case, the drinking water supply must not be endangered. ”

He points out that extracting geothermal energy is very different from extracting oil and gas. “The great thing is that whatever you get out of water, you pump it back in, so that the amount of water in the soil does not change as a result,” says Goense, who has great confidence in the project because Shell is an experienced operator. has experience with the construction and management of dozens of heat networks and Bouwgroep Dijkstra Draisma knows the regional stakeholder field well. That trust is also necessary, because Warmte van Leeuwarden is an important exemplary project for the implementation of geothermal energy in the built environment and crucial for the upscaling of this important part of the heat transition. ”

A stepping stone to more geothermal energy projects in the Netherlands

Warmte van Leeuwarden is the very first project with geothermal energy for Ennatuurlijk. De Ruiter van Ennatuurlijk explains: “We see this project as a stepping stone to similar geothermal heat projects in other cities. This concerns both a new source and a new heat network. This makes planning and implementation a complex puzzle. The construction of the transport pipelines requires a lot of coordination within the city and beyond. We have to take into account the traffic and the cables and pipes that are already underground. We also have to pass under the Van Harinxma Canal with our pipelines, which requires a horizontal directional drilling of approximately 800 meters. ”

After the first customers have been connected, the second phase will begin, in which the existing heat network of the Camminghaburen district will be linked to the geothermal energy network. “More districts will follow after that. If there is enough demand, two more wells can be drilled at the GCL site. And if there is a lot of demand in the long run, we can also use other sources, ”says De Ruiter.

Work commences

Gert Schurer, area manager of the GCL consortium, will be in contact with the companies and local residents in the immediate vicinity for the coming period. He expects drilling will not cause much inconvenience. Schurer believes it is important to be transparent in the communication about the project. “People have legitimate questions, because this is completely new for everyone. But it helps if you explain that using geothermal energy is not the same as extracting oil, gas or salt, for example because as much water goes into the subsurface as comes out, ”says Schurer. There are plans to set up an information center in the building to better explain the project to, for example, representatives of municipalities elsewhere in the country and to school children. But no final decision has yet been taken on this.

A sustainable step for the municipality of Leeuwarden

As alderman for energy and sustainability of Leeuwarden, Bert Wassink is looking forward to the realization of the geothermal heat project in his city. “The Netherlands must be free of natural gas by 2050. Geothermal energy will then be one of the alternative, sustainable heat sources. It would be great if geothermal energy could take the place of natural gas in the heating of our homes and businesses in Leeuwarden. With this project this is a big step closer, ”says Wassink.

Source: EBN