MPs urge UK to tap into huge potential for geothermal technology

Green Britain: Geologist explains how geothermal site works

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MPs are urging the Government to tap into the UK’s vast geothermal reserves in what could be a major lifeline amid a deepening energy crisis. As surging global gas prices have hiked up energy bills for consumers across the country, who now face energy bills of over £4,000 when the Government’s energy price guarantee is set to end,  alternative energy sources could prove vital at driving bills down. Geothermal energy, a low-carbon power source, is harnessed by tapping into the hot water at the bottom of oil and gas basins. But currently, it makes up a tiny portion of the renewable energy mix, with geothermal technologies accounting for just 0.3 percent of the UK’s annual heat demand according to some experts.

Now, the Environmental Audit Committee has written a letter to Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg urging him to provide an update on evidence it has received as part of the review into the potential of geothermal technologies in Britain. 

According to the committee, geothermal energy can potentially fulfil much of UK’s current heating demands via a combination of heat pumps, district heating systems, and power generation.

It added that some projections predict that the sector could support as many as 25,000 jobs by 2050, and could play a key role in helping the UK to race to net zero by 2050. 

But the committee warned: “The Government has been slow to exploit the potential of geothermal, and has not integrated it fully into the net zero strategy: this appears to be holding back a sector which could be transformative for the UK’s capacity to meet climate goals, use homegrown energy and grow the economy.”

While there are a number of geothermal projects in operation, with more in the pipelines across south and southwest England, the sector is falling behind other renewable energy sectors such as offshore wind, which Britain is a world leader in. 

But according to experts, there is no reason why the sector can’t be ramped up to reach those heights, given the UK’s huge potential to harness the energy source. 

For instance, Cornwall has been pinpointed as one of the prime locations where geothermal technologies could be rolled out to as it has “hot rocks” granite that is close to the surface. The Eden Project, for instance, is already investing in geothermal technology.

Another region where geothermal energy could prove successful is Aberdeen in Scotalnd, which has been dubbed the Granite City to the abundance of those rock that exists there. The area is already a centre for oil and gas exploitation and many of the processes and technologies are the same, meaning the city already has the skills and know-how.

Speaking to back in July Karl Williams, Director for the Centre of Waste Management at the University of Central Lancashire, said: “The UK has excellent potential for geothermal energy.“We are fortunate that we can utilise all the different types of geothermal energy recovery.

“We are fortunate that we can utilise all the different types of geothermal energy recovery. From ground source heat pumps providing low-level heat, to the recovery of mine water energy – a legacy of our industrial heritage – all the way up to granite infusion and temperatures in excess of 130C.”

He added: “If we are serious about energy security, then all of these have a role to play. Ground source heat pumps are easy to install for new build housing developments and would help to offset the energy demand from consumers.

He also noted that “other countries have already applied this technology successfully, making a good case for the UK to do the same”. For instance, Paris has been using geothermal energy for heating since 1969, and today it supplies heat to 250,000 households via 50 heating networks.

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But while experts across the board agree that geothermal energy has huge potential here in Britain, there is also a consensus that the Government has not been quick enough to help the technology develop.

Darren Jones, senior geologist from the British Geological Survey, said: “The main stumbling block at the moment is getting the Government to buy into it. In Europe, they have schemes, the Swiss, for example, have stated that 5 percent of their renewable energy will come from geothermal so they’ve put it into their strategy.

“Deep geothermal in particular, is costly, you’re looking for a few million pounds to drill a well so having an insurance incentive scheme, loan incentives, things like that to attract investment to explore is the only way it’s going to start.

“Europe is quite far ahead in that, we’re still lacking behind because we need that buy-in from the government, we are also still lacking a regulatory system for geothermal energy in the UK so we rely quite heavily on Oil and Gas water regulations so it’s sort of a hybrid approach of the two so it really needs a regulatory body to attract investment.”

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