UK must embrace the potential of geothermal energy

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New policy statement urges Government to exploit UK’s natural resources and look to import geothermal energy from Iceland.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is today calling on Government to reassess its approach to geothermal energy to help fully exploit the potential benefits in the UK.

A new policy statement from the Institution urges the Government to embrace an energy source which could one day power and heat large areas of the UK, providing reliable baseload low-carbon energy and making a useful contribution to the UK’s climate change mitigation objectives.

Geothermal energy is stored as heat within a rock or in underground aquifers and, depending on how high the temperatures are, can be used as a direct heating source and, in some cases, to generate electricity.

A number of areas in the UK could have the natural resources to benefit, including Cheshire, East Yorkshire, Worcestershire, Wessex, Cornwall, East Grampians and Northern Ireland.

Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“We know that both national and international geothermal energy sources could benefit the UK, but currently the exploration risks and electricity market regime mean that they are not attractive enough for commercial investigation.

“Despite a clear potential for geothermal in the UK, both in heat and power, the support regime here is uncompetitive compared with other European countries. The UK Government provides just half the level of support for geothermal energy seen in Germany, where an industry that employed 6,000 people and attracted €4 billion in investment was developed.

“The UK needs to catch up and use its world renowned drilling and geoscience expertise to exploit the potential of geothermal source, to help secure energy supplies and provide UK investment and jobs. Government needs to reassess its approach and stimulate growth in this area so that the industry can begin to fully exploit its potential.”

The policy statement also makes the case for importing geothermal power from Iceland in the short-term, as potentially a relatively low cost way of diversifying the UK’s energy supplies to low-carbon sources. In order to fully exploit the potential benefits of geothermal energy, the Institution is urging the Government to:

  • Make UK deep geological data available more widely and easily accessible to non-geologists, by producing and making freely available heat potential maps similar to those for heat demand already produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for Combined Heat & Power;
  • Introduce licensing for geothermal heat resources and exploration risk mitigation for geothermal heat wells;
  • Secure an international treaty and structure a financially viable power purchase agreement, so that 1GW geothermal generation from Iceland can be delivered by High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) interconnector.

Worldwide, global capacity for geothermal energy stands at 11GW, with the largest capacity in the USA, Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico and Italy. With growing interest in geothermal electricity production, experts believe that geothermal generation could grow to 200GW by 2050.


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