The world is moving towards low carbon renewables at a breakneck pace that seems to be accelerating.
But diving with enthusiasm head first into unfamiliar waters risks hitting one’s head against unfamiliar or invisible obstacles; the water is pleasant until your head meets an immovable object.
Maybe it’s time to take a breath and think more strategically about making this much-needed revolution come true.
Wind and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are advancing rapidly, but are they the best choice in the long run? Wind and PV have significant drawbacks: intermittency (working only when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining) is the main one. The expectation of intermittency smoothed out by long-term battery storage becomes less practical with each notice of fire and industrial battery recall on an electric vehicle.
Wind and PV alone can reach up to about 70 percent of the market (if aided by storage technologies to fill the gaps), but beyond that the network needs something more stable and resilient to provide reliable power.
This begs the question: If we dive into these waters, what would be the characteristics of the ideal long-term renewable energy source to supplement wind and photovoltaics? Ideally, it would replace high-carbon, non-renewable fossil fuel supplies with clean, locally sourced, globally available, low cost, socially acceptable, grid stabilizing, zero emissions, followed by load, resilient and reliable. The source.
As Goldilocks would say, we need a ârightâ source of energy. The good news is we have it and it’s about to take off.
Geothermal energy, and in particular closed loop geothermal energy, also known as advanced geothermal systems (AMS), is a source that is right under our feet and has all the characteristics we want. The world’s first geothermal power plant was in Italy. Traditional styles of geothermal energy will therefore always have their place, but will be regionally limited to the few areas with the right geological characteristics.
Improved geothermal systems (EGS) may also have a place in the right areas, but will be challenged by the fact that fracking is used to improve geological features (and can engender social resistance), leaving only AGS , which generally does not use fracking.
But if AGS is so awesome, why hasn’t it already taken off, like wind and PV? It’s a complicated question, but the answer begins with the fact that there are no AGS business plans yet; AGS is relatively new and needs to prove itself in the market, but all signs suggest that AGS has the characteristics to satisfy even Goldilocks.
What will it take to prove that AGS is worthy? The technical challenges are well known and are being resolved. The biggest challenges lie in the non-technical area and revolve around legislative, policy and investment issues, especially in many parts of Europe, where deep geothermal energy is relatively new.
The example of China and photovoltaic manufacturing is instructive here: China has configured itself from a technical, logistical and legislative point of view as the world leader in the manufacture of photovoltaic panels for export, and the advantages resulting.
Europe has the opportunity to dominate the geothermal world by greening its energy supply chain, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and exporting its expertise elsewhere. Iceland is already doing this (but it’s too small to scale). To do this, Europe must first adopt geothermal energy widely; in the process, it can provide new and well-paying jobs for the highly talented oil and gas workforce, currently facing redundancy and obsolescence.
It should also be noted that there is no reason that AGS cannot be combined with wind and PV – by installing underground geothermal plants where possible, under the wind / PV plant. surface plants and / or the sites of decommissioned coal and nuclear power plants. This would allow sharing of infrastructure and personnel while mitigating irregularities in wind / PV supply and compensating for the loss of baseline electricity and district heating that came from decommissioned coal and nuclear power plants without using new sites. virgins.
What will it take for AGS to be widely adopted in Europe? Speed ââis everything – moving slowly will allow others to gain the advantage. The first step is to solve the technical challenges; the EU Innovation Fund, the International Geothermal Association, universities and others are excellent places to quickly resolve these challenges. At the same time, non-technical challenges must be resolved. The first non-technical challenges are economic – any new technology like AGS must follow a learning / cost curve, and early / short-term government price support and a stable export regime can accelerate the descent of this curve to the bottom. that these supports are no longer necessary. . The demand here is for geothermal energy to receive the same treatment as other successful technologies in their infancy. The terms of debt financing are linked to this challenge. AGS projects have not yet proven themselves commercially, but seek debt financing at reasonable commercial rates. The first to adopt reasonable debt financing terms for AGS projects will reap the greatest benefits.
The second challenge is to prepare a unified and rapid policy for licensing and permitting projects. Almost all geothermal projects will require drilling, but drilling is a well understood process, and all that is needed is a streamlining of existing guidelines. Once a project goes into production, the rules and regulations for operating a plant need to be determined because an AGS plant only extracts heat from the basement and only produces energy on the surface; not all rules and regulations related to oil and gas or mining are suitable for their purpose. Related to this is the question of ownership: who owns the heat in the basement, and how are the revenues and costs of its production shared among stakeholders?
For the planners of Europe, the plea is as follows: consider AGS as the source of your district heating networks. Traditional geothermal techniques may have already been considered and rejected; AGS is new and very different, which justifies a reassessment of the options to face the challenge of the difficult to decarbonise heating sector.
Finally, for those who are able to run geothermal projects for themselves (especially large operators like Shell, TotalEnergies and E.ON): consider licensing AGS technologies and using your existing staff and expertise. to decarbonize your scope one and two emissions – this could boost your bottom line significantly.
If European lawmakers, banks, investors and operators were to follow through on these demands, it would greatly benefit them and their stakeholders. It would also benefit companies like Eavor (see www.Eavor.com and www.eavor.de), the main promoter of AGS technology, but a rising tide floats all boats and different traditional AGS and geothermal technologies may be more adapted in different scenarios. . Goldilocks is a tricky master of tasks, but when you get it ‘right’ everyone can benefit.