Research highlights challenges of developing geothermal in UK

Research highlights challenges of developing geothermal in UK Houses of Parliament, London, UK (source: flickr/ Russell Trow, creative commons)
Carlo Cariaga 29 Apr 2022

The POST UK paper looks at the various reasons for why the UK has seemingly lagged behind other European countries in terms of deployment of large-scale geothermal projects.

A research published by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) of the UK provides a glimpse into the state of geothermal development in the UK, as well as the challenges that are currently faced by the industry. As the British Geological Survey shared in their LinkedIn page, The POST brief can help “inform the government and raise awareness of geothermal energy as a viable renewable resource in the UK, at a pivotal moment in the UK’s journey towards net zero.” The full report can be accessed via this link.

Geothermal currently only delivers less than 0.3% of the UK’s annual heat demand. This means that there is still huge potential for geothermal to contribute to the country’s net zero targets. However, the fact that deep geothermal is currently not factored into the government’s strategies also means that the industry may not be receiving the government support that it needs.

In the UK, geothermal energy is currently not recognized as a natural resource like water or gas. Existing regulations for petroleum and water resource exploration and management are being applied to geothermal activities. However, some industry stakeholders have argued that this repurposed regulatory system is over-engineered for regulating deep geothermal.

The lack of a bespoke regulatory body for geothermal also means that companies need to go through complicated multi-agency approval process for their projects. Streamlining the regulatory process is considered by the industry to be an important step for promoting the development and uptake of geothermal technologies. This can best be done by assigning a single, bespoke geothermal regulator or agency that handles the approval process.

Geothermal stakeholder groups also agree that a market framework similar to those provided for other renewable technologies will be beneficial to geothermal. For instance, the cost of geothermal energy systems can be reduced with the help of government support in the form of subsidies and setting of ambitious targets. Without long-term strategies and policies, geothermal energy has failed to thrive in the UK compared to other European countries.

Geothermal risk mitigation schemes are highlighted by the European Geothermal Energy Council (EGEC) as one of the key mechanisms for stimulating the development of deep geothermal projects, especially during stages of low market maturity. There are currently no such schemes in the UK.

Aside from the considerable economic benefits of geothermal energy development, the sector can also provide redeployment opportunities of technologies and workers from the oil and gas industry. However, there are not enough measures that can mitigate the high capital costs and development risk of geothermal projects. These are considered the major barriers to geothermal heat and power projects in the UK.

Earlier this year, we reported on the UK government’s offer of funding for green heating projects through the Green Heat Network Fund. In more recent news, Cornish Lithium has successfully commissioned the Direct Lithium Extraction Plant in Cornwall that will extract battery-grade lithium from geothermal brine.

Source: POST, UK Parliament