Europe a 'world leader' in geothermal technology

According to Oreste Rossi, geothermal energy is 'an inexhaustible source of energy with minimal environmental impact'.

By Oreste Rossi

08 Jan 2014

In September 2012, I wrote to the European commission about geothermal energy, in particular about the mining industry. Geothermal energy is a carbon free, renewable and sustainable source of energy, providing a continuous, uninterrupted supply of heat. This can be used to heat houses and buildings and to generate electricity, and is not dependent on local climate or weather conditions.

Europe is currently the world leader in this technology where naturally fractured rock systems are enhanced and injected with water at high pressure. The water is heated and returns to the surface through a system of production shafts. A heat exchanger then transfers the energy to a second circuit that drives a turbine to generate electricity. There are places where geothermal fluids can be found at various depths due to water that has penetrated underground being heated on contact with hot impermeable rock. In this way high-temperature - over 300°C - geothermal aquifers have formed holding large quantities of superheated steam. The British geological survey has conducted a study in Glasgow exploring the presence of bedrock aquifers and mapping the vast network of abandoned mines under the city.

The revolutionary idea behind this research lies in the fact that geothermal energy could be exploited by making use of the mine network already present in many towns and cities in different countries. The study has shown that underground shafts could furnish up to 40 per cent of the heat needed for Glasgow's population (approximately 600,000 inhabitants). The mining industry was a source of employment and energy for a large part of the last century and geothermal energy is an inexhaustible source of energy with minimal environmental impact.

In view of these facts, I asked the commission to say what guidelines it is planning now and for the future to incentivise research into and implementation of programmes to develop this renewable energy source? Günther Oettinger replied that the commission, through the seventh framework programme for research and technological development (FP7), co-funds a wide variety of innovative technologies including renewable technologies and energy efficiency solutions, both in an early research and pre-commercial demonstration phase. For example, in the communities of Heerlen (Netherlands) and Zagorje (Slovenia), both partners of an ongoing FP7 project entitled Remining-Lowex (2007/2013), locally available water from abandoned mines will be valorised and used for heating and cooling purposes.

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