A new report on the potential for geothermal power in the United Kingdom claims the country is sitting on vast reserves of the renewable, enough in fact to find 20 percent of its energy needs.
The technical report, published by engineering consultants Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM), said deep geothermal resources could provide 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of baseload renewable electricity – equivalent to nearly nine nuclear power stations. Moreover, the authors said the potential heat from geothermal could equal 100 GW.
According to the report, the geothermal reserves are widely spread across the UK with hotspots in the Southwest, in Northern England, and in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
However, the report’s authors complained that this vast potential risked going undeveloped because the UK government may be unwilling to help foster the development of geothermal sites in the country.
The UK geothermal power industry is currently awaiting the Renewables Obligation (RO) Banding Review undertaken by the government. The RO banding decides the rate of support renewables receive by placing an obligation on licensed electricity suppliers in the UK to source an increasing proportion of electricity from renewable sources.
Following the RO banding, which came into effect in April 2009, electricity generated from geothermal technology falls into the “innovative” technology band and is thus eligible for support at a rate of two Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) per megawatt-hour generated.
However, industry figures say this level is too low to stimulate domestic investment.
In a statement, Dr Ryan Law, Chair of the REA Deep Geothermal Group, said: “We don’t want to be left out of a global industry which is estimated to be worth £30 billion by 2020. We could be at the forefront of this industry given the strength of British engineering skills.
“If the UK wants to seize a share of this booming global market we must prove our competence at home. Clearly investment at home could also go a long way to meeting our future energy needs cleanly and safely.”
Geothermal comes from capturing the heat emitted naturally by radioactive rocks beneath the surface of the earth. Developers capture the energy by cracking open the rocks and pumping water through them and back up to the surface. The water comes up boiling and the steam rotates a turbine.
Unlike other forms of renewable energy such as solar or wind, geothermal offers the advantage that it can produce power without break, regardless of the time of the day or weather conditions. A drawback of geothermal, however, is the major investment needed to start operations: scouting out suitable sites and drilling down to the geothermal rocks is a costly and lengthy process.
According to REA, the UK industry has only around half the levels of support seen in Germany and Switzerland. REA said that as a result of support in Germany, the deep geothermal industry now employs 6,000 people and has attracted 4 billion euros of investment.