Geothermal Energy Provides a Real Solution to Energy Security

 

I have a positive vision of Scotland’s future without unconventional gas, and it is not ‘poor, cold and green’, it is ‘safe, warm and thriving’. The fallacy that green comes at a disproportionately high cost is a falsehood that serves only to keep communities from owning and generating their own power, and those who hope to profit by cornering things people need to survive, and keeping prices artificially high, which they can only do by keeping them scarce.

If we choose to develop an alternative energy industry, more jobs will be created and heat will be cheap. I have just been to Iceland where every home is toasty and piped hot water is unlimited, because they are all connected to community-owned Geothermal Power. Energy bills are 15% of what they are here, and yet the spin would have us believe we will be cold and poor if we don’t let them exploit our communities with fracking. The chairman of Cuadrilla and George Osborne have already confirmed that frack gas will NOT bring down domestic prices.

We don’t need a volcanic landscape to tap the heat in the earth, and the Government has already commissioned reports that have found enough resource in Scotland to heat the whole country using Geothermal energy, as the Times reported last year. When faced with pollution of our communities and a hastening of the climate catastrophe that threatens extinction within decades, why on Earth are we NOT chasing the sustainable wealth in Geothermal Energy? Where I live, communities all around the Firth of Forth at at risk of Underground Coal Gasification, which is currently set to be allowed through the back door despite the Scottish Government moratorium. Coal Gasification has never been tested on this scale and there are serious public safety concerns – SEPA confirms that they are responsible for regulating, but that there is no framework for UCG and that companies will self-monitor, which would of course be in conflict with their requirement to maximise profits for shareholders. There is no motivation for them to protect the public, and no way of flagging up spills and mistakes independently..

The narrative coming out in the pro-fracking propaganda is that we ‘need’ this dangerous technology for ‘energy security’, but this this is inaccurate and wrong-headed. The renewables sector is a vast global growth area, where Scotland could become a world leader in technology and skills. Currently employing 11,000 people, the sector generates almost half of Scotland’s total electricity needs. Coincidentally, the geological properties that make Scotland’s most densely populated areas attractive for frackers make it prime for Geothermal energy. We have a chance to become world leaders in Geothermal Energy instead of being left to clean up the mess after a two-year raid of the coal and gas beneath our homes.

At its most simple, heat recovered from disused collieries in the Central Belt of Scotland could provide district heating and account for a quarter Scotland’s entire electricity consumption. This has already been done in Glasgow and for the past eleven years has been running in Glenalmond Street, Shettleston.  The British Geological Survey have researched the national scenario and suggest that the possibilities could be substantial if we tapped into hot aquifers 2-3km down or if we drilled into hot granites 5-6km down. We could use the heat for heating, but also to power turbines, potentially generating 10s-100s MWe, possibly even GWe of baseload power. That would mean that geothermal energy could equal that of wind power, meeting our entire electricity demand. Geothermal energy has the additional advantage of supporting baseload independent of season and weather changes throughout the year.  

 

In technological terms, we could spark a technological Scottish Enlightenment, with engineers and specialists leading the world in design and expertise, creating a cheap power source that would last indefinitely. Or we put our farmland and  waters at risk of contamination for up to thousands of years, pushing the world towards the climate tipping point and extinction of the human race. For the sake of a false claim of ‘cheaper bills’, and no real difference in jobs growth  for an industry that lasts only a couple of years. It’s a no brainer.

I know which one I’d rather have for my children, for our communities. I’d like us to be thriving ten years from now, a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now. If we choose geothermal energy instead of fracking, we might be able to give them a future they will be thankful for.

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20 Comments Add yours

  1. Helen Noble says:

    This is a far wiser investment than fracking/UCG it should be promoted more widely so that the people living in these areas can see there is a choice.

  2. Great article – thanks!

  3. Reblogged this on Wicked Green Blog and commented:
    Here’s a really interesting and well referenced article on the potential for geothermal energy in Scotland.

  4. Geothermal is not as simple as find something warm.

    Taking a closer look we need to be more specific. Do we mean geothermal electrical production or geothermal heat?

    Electrical needs very warm sources and there are certainly areas in the UK that have been tapped. However even in Iceland there are areas unsuitable!

    Geothermal heat also needs broken down. Do we mean heat at sufficiently high temperatures or heat at warm enough to be source of heat for big heatpumps?

    Again the geology may well be warm but if it is dry then getting the heat to move is tricky. Stone is a good insulator!

    Of course the strata and water paths can be opened up with fracturing.

    So what are we actually needing and what is the best way of getting it?

    If it is heat then our surface water can be assessed with a pair of wellies, and some dog biscuits and a top watch. We live in a boring climate. Cold enough to need heating but not so cold we can’t use the surface resources without the risk and uncertainty of guessing what lies beneath our feet.

    http://www.neatpumps.com/energy-shower

    So long as the sun keeps shining and the rain keeps falling we will have more than enough heat resources on the surface.

    Of course we can also use heat recovered from other processes like distilleries, breweries and data centres.

    Heat is 50% of our energy usage. Electricity 25%

    1. lauraeatonlewis says:

      I totally agree, great post, thank you!

      There are lots of options to use the heat in the ground, and with a bit of canny design we could be much. much more efficient, putting all that heat to good use.

      There are of course, different solutions for different areas, from the very deep to very near the surface, there are a range of options that are not yet being explored.

      There is so much potential!

  5. Bobby Mac. says:

    Hi Laura,

    Nice to hear someone championing geotherm!

    I work in the energy industry and we’ve been looking at geotherm for a while now…the last decade up in the North East with the PPP Energetica set up to develop the renewable energy economy. Some of the focus is hot granite and geotherm electricity. The fundamental problem is expense though, the cost of exploration and development is huge – especially connectivity infrastructure. Most of the funding/ subsidies comes from the UK government who can afford the investment and more importantly can provide open access/ conversion of the national grid and facilitate potential export to the continent. Private investment is dependent on these subsidies (spread over a UK wide market base is best option) to offset a lack of competition with cheaper fossils (same for other renewables). Also the size of market is important for investor return.

    For these reasons many in the renewable industry were very skeptical about independence and saw the indyref as taking the eye off the ball so to speak. The bigger long term picture.

    What is the Green stance on independence since the referendum. I’ve checked the website but it is a little unclear. Are you still a ‘nationalist’ party?

    1. lauraeatonlewis says:

      Sorry to have missed this comment!

      As I say below, this is my personal blog, so I’m not representing the Greens in anything I say here.

      Generally the Greens are committed to democracy and to local democracy and a degree of reform of the current system. For more info on that you can see here on the policy page: http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/policy/society/

      At the time of the Scottish Independence referendum a vote was taken within the membership to support independence as the majority felt that as an aim, it upheld those principles of decentralised governance. Others in the party disagreed and were supported to hold the integrity of their opinion. The Greens have historically embraced difference and debate within the party, and worked with other parties wherever there were areas of mutual policy in the interests of a better society for planet and people.

      My personal view is that we have to work with what we have now, and work towards an achievable vision for a just and sustainable future. What’s currently happening with the unconventional gas developments in Scotland, is entirely the opposite – it is utterly in conflict with our climate obligations, and bullying the public to smear us as ‘extremists’ for using free speech and the democratic channels of making representation to our politicians…

      Look at this yesterday from the BBC website:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-31554251

      ‘Andrew Nunn, the group’s chief operating officer, added: “Typically, the ill-informed opponents of UCG choose to focus on a small number of negative outcomes during the developmental phases of the technology rather than the opportunities that a well-designed and operated UCG project could bring to the people of Scotland in the form of more competitive local industry, new employment opportunities, local tax revenue and energy security.

      “These increasingly extreme groups oppose practically all forms of energy development in Scotland and do not represent the vast majority of the population.

      “They have no democratic legitimacy and should not be allowed to dictate government policy, which works to the benefit of the entire nation.’

      If it were ever needed, this blog is proof that we neither oppose all forms of energy, nor are we uniformed.

      They are presenting the case as if there are no alternatives, when there are much better alternatives. I’d love to hear from you about what was promised but never delivered for the renewables industry.

      Thanks again.
      Laura

      1. Bobby Mac says:

        Hi Laura,

        I apologise, thought this was a public site rather than a personal one. Feel free to use graphics, I’m sure no one will mind or a private site. We in the industry are cautious about misrepresentation and legal implications (I’m sure you can imagine how often those with political agendas use our work without understanding the full facts or implications.) Especially after the indyref and all the unpleasantness/ bullying/ outright nonsense/ scientific/ economic ignorance from the Yes people/ Scot government with regards to the green energy sector.

        Yes I agree with you on shale. Is not immediately necessary but will now undoubtedly go ahead. I’m not sure what this has to do with the Scottish Greens stance on independence? The link is usual politicians waffle. No straight answer, just nonsense and sophistry about ‘democracy’? A simple yes or no? Is that so difficult?

        The reason is outlined above why a No vote was crucial to the renewable sector and it is important that there is not a re-run with more damage caused by the uncertainty created with respects to investment and subsidy/ over coming geographical logistical and technical issues. Scotland/ UK has already lost our very significant advantage over the Danes in wind and wave is looking decidedly shaky also. Pelamis, the Saltire prize etc. There has been too much politiking in the renewable sector, especially from the nationalists. It really needs to stop of the industry is to have a future.

        But it seems the Scottish Greens are still in favor of independence which seems an odd, contradictory position as it plays into the hands of the other energy sectors – OG and UCG?

      2. lauraeatonlewis says:

        Hi Bobby,

        I was personally all for Independence, precisely because I wanted our renewables sector to thrive – so I’m really interested in what you’re saying about the plans not stacking up for your industry. Can you point me to some reading or some sources which would help me get this straight? I’m sure there are lots of people like me who want to do the best with what we’ve got, and fix things that are not working wherever possible. On the climate change front it’s utterly imperative that we take this very seriously and get the renewables industry properly supported. It’s devastating that we have the geographic resource to be leading in this sector, but as you say, investment in developing companies is being prioritised less than investment in fossil fuels. If you could provide some links or point me to some reading, that would be incredibly helpful. If you want to contact me off this forum you can email me at lauracameronlewis@gmail.com

  6. Bobby Mac. says:

    Hi Laura,

    Just another quick question. Many of us who have been working in the renewable industry for the last twenty years or so were promised ‘independent’ costings and ‘independent’ surveys by the SNP government for the whole renewable sector. We never received them and are still waiting (some who opposed independence openly lost funding after). Where can we find the appropriate documentation for the proposed policies by the Scottish Greens and where exactly are you sourcing your figures from with regard to your blog posts?

    This is important stuff. Look forward to your reply. Also, a word of advice, you might want to look at copywrite issues when using other people’s graphics for a public campaign.

    Thanks, Bob.

    1. lauraeatonlewis says:

      Hi, thanks for posting this here, what you’re saying is really important and needs investigating. What were the ‘independent costings’ and ‘surveys’ for? I’d be keen to investigate that.

      In terms of the figures I have used to make my assertions, I link throughout the blog to my sources for all my figures, if you click on the underlined sections it should take you through to the original sources by the original authors.

      This is my own blog with my own opinion and nothing I say is written on behalf of, or in an official capacity for the Scottish Greens. For full transparency, I am a member of the Greens, and am committed to their principles of creating a sustainable energy infrastructure in Scotland. If you want to know more about what the Scottish Greens think about renewable energy and investment, you can read their policy page here: http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/policy/energy/

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      All best,
      Laura

  7. Bobby Mac. says:

    Hi laura.

    You still have other people’s graphic on your political blog. Can you please take them down? Or at least ask permission?

  8. lauraeatonlewis says:

    Hi Bob, I just received your messages – thanks for your advice, i hadn’t realised that embedding was different to linking. I will indeed take them down.
    Best,
    Laura

    1. Bobby Mac says:

      Hi Laura,

      TBH, I’m a bit tired of all the politics for now (and have learnt it is best to remain silent, as I think many skeptics of the present govt, both North and South of the border have + as are others who are reliant on funding for their livelihood/ long term projects.) And the nationalists are the gatekeepers up here.) But the data and reading is all available online to make an informed judgement regarding the current coordinated 2020 UK renewable targets.

      Here’s a few for starters. But it’s not so complicated. (and ironically, it once up and running renewable energy would put Scotland in a much stronger position for independence – just not yet.)

      1)Renewable energies are nascent and need govt subsidy + access to a potentially ‘guaranteed’ large market to invite private investment for them to reach maturity and stand alone within the wider world/ energy market. tThey are like teenagers who need a stable household and encouragement – not divorce and argument. Plus the lower the price the better to compete with fossils.

      2) Independence would have jeopardised this by undermining the single integrated energy market across the UK with differing commercial and consumer costs on different sides of the border with unequal access across the market area and dev. Fergus Ewing tacitly acknowledged this by insisting it would be in rUk’s interest to maintain the single integrated energy market without changes to funding. This was basically nonsense. Why would they? Try selling that to the rUK voters. Also they can get other energy cheaper from elsewhere in Europe and forget about the 2020 targets? Scotland would have to fund the whole medium term dev of the industry based on tax receipts either on the consumer making renewables politically impossible or – where else will the money come from? ‘you guessed it’ Oil& Gas/ and Fracking. Even if rUk did continue to source Scottish energy, it would only be with regard to what already exists. It would not be investing billions in transmission/ connectivity to the far and distance wave generators up in the firths etc.

      3) Green energy is taxed at sale not source like fossils (problematic making money from it) – this means integrated networks are essential across borders, especially in an OCA like UK – why the EU is creating a single interconnected smart grid and market. (which Scotland would not automatically be a part of due to the terms of accession to the EU. e.g) no Euro money either. (remember all 28 counties would have to agree – including renewable rich Spain, Denmark and Portugal.

      4) China. A significant stream of private funding could come from China, they are doing well in renewables and very interested in Scottish tech and set up. But politics is politics. A newly ceded state would not be welcomed with open arms by the Chinese govt, (Xinjian province, Tibet, Hong Kong etc.) I was in China a year ago and many engineers/ business people were very worried about VISA restrictions in the short to medium term (this happened to Norway when the govt ‘offended’ and nearly crippled their Marine engineering industry as all the shipyards/ exports are now in China.) They would favor others like rUK and freeze a new Scotland out.

      5) don’t get me started on baseload and transmission distance to market!

      Here’s a few sources. Some partisan, like the UK govt report, but I’m sure you’re smart enough to read between the lines and make your own judgement. Forget the household price stuff, is pointless. Look at the integrated market stuff/ transmission costs. The National grid stuff is neutral (ish).

      Citigroup were neutral – they only care about money; return on investment!

      https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/301772/2901910__ScotlandAnalysis_Energy_acc.pdf

      http://www.cornwallenergy.com/Opinion/Renewable-energy-in-the-context-of-Scottish-independence

      http://www.theguardian.com/politics/scottish-independence-blog/2014/apr/08/scotland-scottish-green-energy-taxes

      http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmenergy/writev/1912/sco13.htm

      http://www.nationalgridconnecting.com/fes-fast-facts/

      http://www.nationalgridconnecting.com/european-connections/

      http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21572234-how-independence-might-threaten-one-snps-favourite-industries-caution-wind

      http://www.nationalgridconnecting.com/european-challenge/

      http://www.scottishenergynews.com/norway-and-national-grid-announce-worlds-longest-international-electricity-connector-to-uk/

      1. lauraeatonlewis says:

        A hearty THANKS to you for all of this, I know that must have taken quite some time out of your day. I really appreciate it. I’ll have a good read, digest, and think. Cheers again, L

  9. Hi Laura

    I think that tapping the potential of the abandoned mines in central Scotland is worthy of further research, I would urge you however to beware comparisons with Iceland. There are unresolved issues in Iceland with regard to the exploitation of geothermal energy; 1) the question of pollution derived from the release of sulphur oxides (I personally find it hard to believe that this can’t be tackled but this issue just continues to rumble on). 2) Geothermal energy is not inexhaustible. It is acknowledged here that the springs need to replenish themselves. It is unknown when they will be depleted and nor is ti known how long they will take to replenish. 3) Community owned? I would say a convoluted mix of state/private ownership that has not been without controversy. 4) Oddly (with the other points in mind), the greatest concern for the public in Iceland seems to be the visual landscape impact of geothermal i.e. the conversion of wilderness into industrial.

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