Thursday, May 9, 2019

United Kingdom: Geothermal Has the Look and Feel of an Energy Alternative Whose Time Has Finally Come

Could Cornish granite unlock deep geothermal energy in England? (Power Technology)

Robin Shail of Camborne
School of Mines.
The United Downs Deep Geothermal Power Project in Cornwall promises to make deep geothermal energy generation a reality in the UK. Julian Turner talks to Robin Shail of the University of Exeter’s Camborne School of Mines, about the challenge of sourcing funding and drilling three miles below the surface.

Nearly 30 years after it was originally trialled in the UK, geothermal also has the look and feel of an energy alternative whose time has finally come. Unbeknown to many, from the mid-1970s through to 1991, the £42m Hot Dry Rock (HDR) project looked at the potential of deep geothermal drilling in the south west of England, where granites contain elevated levels of uranium, thorium and potassium, naturally occurring radioactive elements that generate heat as they decay over time.

“One of the reasons the HDR project didn’t go any further is that the UK was in the middle of the ‘dash to gas’ and enjoying cheap energy, and the issue of carbon-intensive power systems wasn’t really on the political agenda,” explains Robin Shail, senior lecturer in geology at the Camborne School of Mines (CSM), which led the original project.

“However, energy costs have since changed, the whole decarbonisation agenda has taken off, green power is seen as good and the economics of geothermal, while not entirely straightforward, have also been transformed. So, the time is right from an energy policy point of view, but also politically in terms of people’s perception of energy and its environmental impact.”