UK EGS project secures $10 million in government funding

Pernzance, Cornwall, UK (source: flickr/ The Brit_2, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 1 Nov 2011

UK based geothermal development company Geothermal Engineering reports it has landed a US$10 million government grant for its EGS United Downs project in Cornwall, UK.

UK based geothermal power company Geothermal Engineering Ltd, reports that it has “landed a GBP6 million ($9.6 million) government grant to squeeze onto a tiny sliver of United Downs in Cornwall and drill 3 miles down to sizzling hot granite.

The company “plans to eventually pump down water that would absorb heat, rise to the surface, run through a heat exchanger, create steam and drive a turbine for a 10 megawatt electricity station – enough for 20,000 homes connected to the grid. The plant would also generate 50 megawatts of heat to warm local buildings, possibly including schools and swimming pools.”

The company is developing an EGS project “taking advantage of the substantial granite that sits below England’s southwest counties of Devon and Cornwall at around 175-to-200 degrees C. Granite warms because it slowly and radioactively decays (remember that next time you’re marvelling at Yosemite’s majestic outcroppings). The project is a closed loop system that does not transfer any radioactivity, as the pumped water continually circulates up and down through the ground, the heat exchanger and back to the ground.

The United Downs project near Redruth, Cornwall, is the first of what the company hopes will be about 25 similar geothermal stations that the company will build in the area, generating about 300 megawatts of electricity.

“DECC (the UK’s energy department) has predicted that Cornwall alone has the potential to generate up to 1 gigawatt of electricity,” Ryan Law told SmartPlanet. “That is a target worth aiming for. The South West has a great geothermal resource and developing this resource will mean more jobs, more British engineering expertise, and more clean energy for the country.” Like solar and wind, geothermal can help wean the world off of volatile and CO2-emitting fossil fuels. And it can provide constant power, rather than waiting until the sun shines or wind blows.

Law received planning permission for his Cornwall project a little over a year ago. He’ll wedge onto about an acre of United Downs, near print and auto body shops, small business offices and a “banger raceway” – a place where Brits race beat-up cars.

He hasn’t yet started drilling because the process is expensive. The £6 million grant from the UK’s Regional Growth Fund will help assure that he starts drilling by the end of 2012, he says. He’s still hoping to raise additional private backing – he has said in the past that his first phase will require £12.5 million.

The grant was welcome news following a disappointment two weeks ago, when in a separate funding scheme called the Renewable Obligation program, the UK’s energy department merely held geothermal steady rather than raising its priority.

The technology comes with risks. Tiny earthquakes are common, just as they are with any drilling project. That’s rarely a problem, although it did halt a job in Switzerland about 5 years ago. And expensive drilling could in the end go off course and fail to hit hot rock. Google-backed geothermal firm AltaRock Energy two years ago abandoned a similar project in California after finding what it called “geological anomalies”.

Law is confident that he’ll hit hot rock. He’s drawing on 14 years of research from the UK government’s 1976–1990 Hot Dry Rocks project project in nearby Rosemanowes. Not only is the rock below Redruth hot, but it’s loose, which will make it easier to run water throw and reduce any seismic activity, he says.

In an area that once pulled tin out of the ground for riches, Law could soon be mining for heat in Cornwall.”

Source: SmartPlanet