Geothermal in Canada—at last?

Valemount, B.C. Home of Canada’s first geothermal industrial mall?

Finally, some geothermal activity is happening in Canada. Three projects are in planning or in progress:

For years Canada has been a Luddite in the lack of development of geothermal energy. Because of a confusion in terminology between geo-exchange (using heat pumps to use the temperature gradient in the soil) and geothermal (using the hot liquid from the earth’s magma), funding has been miniscule for real geothermal development.

An article about the global development of geothermal energy in Renewable Energy World  illustrates how meager Canada’s approach has been. The article notes the planned projects of 23 countries—Canada  is not included. The article briefly mentions a “bold movement” in B.C. to produce geothermal from abandoned oil wells.

Let’s hope that these projects become a reality. Here’s what is happening now.

Valemount

This project visualizes an industrial mall where the heating would be supplied by direct geothermal heat to industries such as greenhouses and a brewery. The plan includes a 15 MW power plant that could tie into the provincial electrical grid. Residual heat from the power plant could also be used in the industrial mall.

Saskatchewan

This project is slated to begin this month near Estevan, Saskatchewan. In the first stage, Deep Earth Energy Production (DEEP) will be drilling into the aquifer of the Williston basin to explore its geothermal potential. The drilling isn’t random because existing oil and gas wells nearby indicate bottom hole temperatures that are in a workable temperature range to develop geothermal. DEEP plans a 5 MW power plant within 2.5 years and is discussing a possible sale of this power to Sask Power.

Alberta

CanGEA has revealed this grant from the Alberta government to investigate which idled oil and gas wells could realistically produce geothermal energy. A representative of CanGEA has warned that the association doesn’t want the geothermal project to become just another part of the Alberta government’s cleanup of idled wells.

To-date, CanGEa has released few details except to state that geothermal could also be developed with producing wells in addition to abandoned ones. CanGEA has promised to keep the public informed about the progress of the study and to publicly reveal the study’s findings.

B.C. Hydro and geothermal

These are exciting announcement,  but one glaring absence continues—B.C. Hydro, the electric power producer for the Canadian province with the largest potential for geothermal. Many countries around the Pacific Rim—which has most of the easiest-to-access geothermal potential—have developed this potential. An expert, Dr. Mory Ghomshei, hired by B.C. Hydro in 1984, investigated the geothermal potential of B.C. and more specifically of Meager Creek north of Vancouver. There, Dr. Gomshei and his team constructed a small geothermal electric plant. Despite the success of this plant when B.C. Hydro downsized, it scrapped this plant.

What might have been

Dr. Gomshei concluded from his geothermal study of B.C. that, “BC’s geothermal could supply 60 percent of BC’s electricity needs.” Unfortunately, B.C. Hydro never really followed up with any serious studies until recently. Even their studies, which Can GEA said underestimated the potential, showed that the amount of available geothermal power in the province is two-thirds of the projected capacity of Site C.

Site C is the huge hydro-electric project that will cause devastating environmental and social costs in the Peace River. Many people including the former head of B.C. Hydro have spoken out against the project pointing out that the province doesn’t need that much power and that renewables such as geothermal could be in production by the time any increased need emerges.

 

What’s developing in renewables?

windmills-984137_19202015 was an exciting year for renewables. The Guardian announced that the Renewables Global Status report found, ” Overall, more than twice as much money was spent on renewables than on coal and gas-fired power generation ($130bn in 20150).”

Lots of progress is happening in renewables—much of it is expansion of wind and solar farms, but there are more far-reaching developments going on. Batteries are getting better and cheaper, solar panels are more efficient, and new storage methods are being investigated. Here are some recent developments.

Solar

Sunflare has developed a thin-fim solar technology. Here’s what it offers:

  • much lighter weight—65 percent less than conventional panels
  • simpler installation—no mounting rack necessary
  • increased energy generation—produce up to 10 percent more energy
  • fexible—can be applied to any shape

Sunflare’s founder, Len Gao states that, “the panels can be secured to any surface with a special double-sided tape.” While the cells themselves are more expensive than conventional solar panels, you don’t need a mounting rack so the total price should remain about the same. The amazing thing about these cells is the variety of mounting possibilities.

Wind

A white paper from Mita-Teknik describes an Advanced Blade Pitch System: New blade pitch technology uses electricity instead of hydraulics, which is more reliable because of the absence of hydraulic fluid leaks. The pitch systems have also been improved, which means that the systems are more responsive to changing wind conditions. This is especially important in machines that are designed for extreme weather and for offshore wind farms. This control lets the turbines operate in higher wind speeds, permits longer blades, and reduces wear on the turbine components.

Geothermal

For Canada with a record of no geothermal projects something is finally happening—in Hinton, Alberta. According to the Hinton Voice, this project that brings Epoch Energy and the town together, is currently at what they refer to as, “the pre-feasibility stage.” The plan is to look at whether existing capped oil wells could be used to heat some public buildings in the town. Although, it’s not electricity generation, this is a first for Canada to investigate the use of actual geothermal energy, not geo-exchange, directly as a heat source.

The Financial Post on August 9 of this year reported that a provincial legislator had requested, “the Alberta government to allow an old well to be converted to geothermal energy to heat an 8,000 square-foot greenhouse.” He proposed this for a former oilfield water disposal well in Leduc. Additionally, DeSmog described what the Alberta government needs to do to seriously develop geothermal energy in the province.

Smart Electrical grids

A smart electrical grid provides two-way information and power exchange between providers and consumers so that all of the devices on the grid can be managed to maximize conservation, efficiency, and continuity of electricity. The addition of renewables with variable power output increases the need for a smart grid that can ensure that power is available where and when it’s needed. Data that tracks electrical energy in real time is essential to operate a smart gird. Smart meters can provide this data. Ontario installed them several years ago and the U.S. currently has 65 million of them.

Greentech Media announced that several companies are currently designing and building devices for the grid that can “actively manage voltage and power at the distribution circuit level.”

Good news

In a year that should have shown lower investments in renewables because of  low oil prices, the reverse happened. This is a good indication that renewables are here to stay.

And now for an unbiased future energy prediction!!!!???

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Courtesy of Grinning Planet—Saving the planet one joke at a time

Millenials— heed my words

On August 30, 2016, John S. Watson, CEO at Chevron (Oil and Gas) replied to a question from LinkedIn Executive Editor Dan Roth. Roth wondered, “How Chevron could continue to attract employees—particularly millenials?” Predictably the title of Watson’s reply was, “Why I think oil and natural gas are indispensable for the foreseeable future.” Well, knock me over! I’m sure the harness manufacturers circa 1900 were predicting the horse to be indispensable for the foreseeable future. Watson quickly dispensed with the millenials and proceeded to an exposition of Chevron’s indispensability to the World.

I have absolutely no stake in this

Although he superficially addressed the question of climate change in the accompanying video, with comments such as, “Climate has always been changing,” he made absolutely no mention of it in his article. Stranger yet, while he dismissed the present technologies of solar and wind renewables as being inadequate, he entirely ignored geothermal energy, the renewable, which his company has pushed, especially in Indonesia. Why? Is this geothermal project  serious or is this a green wash project to satisfy some government regulations or to qualify for some grant? Or did he ignore it because he knows that geothermal is the only renewable besides hydroelectric that can be used as a base source? That’s one renewable that can’t be dismissed as intermittent.

Comparing Ferraris to Hyundais is fair

He quoted Bill Gate’s reference to the need for a “cheap, clean source of energy” to lift the poor of the world out of poverty. Isn’t it interesting that Watson, as the leader of an energy giant, uses the need for energy by the third world to attack renewables. Meanwhile, the poor are currently being bypassed by the energy suppliers because they can’t afford the grid infrastructure. He does this even while current fossil fuels are doing nothing to solve this problem. However, the first part of that statement isn’t entirely true because renewables on a local scale such as solar-powered lights are already offering off-grid poor the promise of 24-hour light and heat for cooking that are cheaper and healthier than sourced from fossil fuels.

Waiting for a miracle!

He referred to Gate’s prediction of a “game-changing technology breakthrough”. So it’s easier to believe in miracles than to make some real commitment to renewables and provide the real research that could increase their efficiency and practicality (Developments such as improved storage, better solar panels and the mapping of potential geothermal sites).

You best interest is our goal—NOT

Watson, talked about the great advance with the reduction of tailpipe emissions reductions, but he failed to mention that the fossil fuel companies and the car manufacturers didn’t make these changes out of some great benevolence and concern for human health. History shows that they were dragged along “kicking and screaming” by government regulation and that they opposed most environmental concerns.

Doing what we always did, but better?obviously

Watson referred to new ways for the oil and gas industry to “find more resources and ways to recover more of them efficiently, economically and safely. “ He failed to name any specifics. Ask BP about their new ways, such as their safety practices. Is he trying to whitewash environment-threatening projects such as fracking, the Alberta oil sands, and drilling in the Arctic Ocean? The costs—environmental degradation, human health threats, and loss of wildlife habitat—are rising steeply as the diminishing reserves are found in increasingly difficult circumstances.

We’ve got our priorites straight—have you?

Chevron’s CEO concluded by pledging to meet environmental priorities as wall as economic ones as the energy sector transforms. Unfortunately, because he didn’t mention climate change, we can assume it’s not one of Chevron’s priorities. Will LinkedIn do the right thing and offer an alternative presentation by the renewable sector to get answers for some of the questions raised here?

 

Can geothermal energy save us?

 

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Combined geothermal heat and power plant Sauerlach, Germany

I’ve examined three areas of concern for geothermal energy and here’s what I’ve concluded.

Earthquakes

Geothermal activity can induce small earthquakes, but this seismic activity has never caused any damage nor impeded any geothermal power project in the U.S. In fact, most of these seismic events were so weak that they couldn’t be detected without a seismometer. This was over a period of almost 100 years. The first power plant using geothermal power to produce electricity was developed in 1921, although the first large-scale plant wasn’t built until 1960.

Often geothermal energy is most accessible where the  risk of earthquake activity is higher to begin with. However, siting the plants further from fault lines can help. If a plant is located near heavily populated areas, constant monitoring along with good communication is absolutely necessary.

Gas emissions

A closed-loop power recovery system such as the binary process releases no gases into the atmosphere; therefore, emissions would be minimal. Even the open-loop plants have minimal emissions compared to other forms of electricity production. Scrubbers could be added to current open-loop systems to remove emissions such as mercury.

Effluent lagoons

There has been no known contamination of ground water from any geothermal sites in the U.S. and the new closed-loop processes result in minimal seepage. Also as far as fresh water usage is concerned, some water is used in replacing a small amount of steam loss. Fortunately, this injection process doesn’t require clean fresh water.

The verdict for geothermal—Yes!

Overall the balance sheet for geothermal is extremely favourable especially when compared to fossil fuel extraction and use. This becomes clearly evident when you realize that geothermal energy releases a minimal amount of green house gases (GHG).

The best thing about geothermal is that it has the same base load qualities as the fossil fuels. This quality doesn’t apply to any other renewable energy sources. According to Renewable Energy World.com, Geothermal energy is available 24 hours per day regardless of external conditions plus the output can be synchronized with the grid demands.

Current global status of geothermal energy

According to Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st century (REN21), in 2014 the global capacity was almost 12.8 GW. However, although 94 countries have been identified with geothermal resources, only 24 are producing geothermal electricity (Six percent of estimated global potential). Unfortunately, Canada is not one of the 24!

Why is geothermal only at six percent of its potential?

One of the main reasons is the cost of development. Drilling can contribute 34 to 40 percent of the cost: one well can cost between $1 million to $7 million. The International Finance Corporation funded a study to analyze the risks associated with geothermal drilling. The study found that on average the success rate for geothermal wells in the early stage has been around 50-60 percent.

There is good news for geothermal. In the past financial investment such as commercial debt have been unavailable in the early stage of geothermal development because of the high risk. Exploration can account for up to 15 percent of the capital cost of a geothermal project. Fortunately, according to Renewable Energy World, funds for the early development stages are beginning to increase, especially in the public sector.

Extra funding barrier in Canada

To make matters worse for geothermal development in Canada, a funding problem is created because of sloppiness with the term geothermal. The current federal renewable energy program doesn’t treat heat pump systems (geo-exchange) separately from the direct use of geothermal heat. The Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance (ACCA) technical class guide states that a geothermal heat system must have a heat pump. Consequently, a direct-use, geothermal system is ineligible because it doesn’t use a heat pump. This is ridiculous! Sloppy language eliminates the authentic, geothermal energy use while the geo-exchange qualifies! This bureaucratic obstruction is exactly why I stressed the need to use accurate terminology for heat pump systems!

 

 

Can effluent lagoons sink geothermal?

Before I discuss the third concern about geothermal, I want to draw your attention to two temperature milestones that were announced this week.

Ominous milestones!
  1. The Guardian announced that NASA stated the February 2016 increase in average, global surface temperature broke the previous record by an unbelievable margin of 0.21C. This  increase of average global temperature—1.35C—broke the previous record of 1.15C set in January 2016 (This January!).
  2. Treehugger revealed that NASA declared 2015 the hottest year since records began 136 years ago.
Relief from geothermal?
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Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Now back to geothermal and it’s promise to help in reducing carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Geothermal effluent

Another downside of geothermal that I’ve seen is one that (pardon the pun) surfaced in Iceland—effluent water lagoons. This is in Iceland, the paragon of all virtues that are geothermal! While lagoons may convey an image of tropical paradise, the reality is not pretty. Unfortunately, again at Hellisheiði, there have been side effects from geothermal energy production. Two effluent lagoons (not in the original plan) appeared. These lagoons resulted from wastewater that had leaked out onto the surface because of geothermal pumping.  This waste water can contain heavy concentrations of heavy metals plus other toxic elements.

And the Blue Lagoon?

On the other hand, one of the effluent lagoons has become a huge tourist magnet—The Blue Lagoon. At the Blue Lagoon, the biggest complain is that the silica in the water dry out your hair and make it brittle. People claim that the water from the Blue Lagoon is a natural treatment for psoriasis.

Solution to the problem

However, the effluent problem is easy to eliminate and its presence indicates that the developers are not exercising due diligence. As with any industry, regulation and enforcement is still necessary despite the push of many right-wingers to eliminate both of these. The solution to the lagoon problem is simply to reinject the geothermal water. The closed binary system eliminates this problem as does the GTherm process that I described last week.

Other Geothermal concerns

Here are some other concerns with Geothermal:

  • Fresh water usage—Although some geothermal plants use fresh water to replace the amount lost as water vapour, the amounts are relatively small. Geothermal fresh water use is rated at 0.02 m3 per MGh while the usage for natural gas facilities is 1.37 m3 per MGh (more that 60 times greater). A binary geothermal plant uses no fresh water.
  • Land subsidence—Subsidence can result from the removal o subsurface water in geothermal processes. When subsidence has happened, it has been confined to the area of the well and hasn’t occurred off-site. Reinjection of the geothermal water can eliminate subsidence.
  • Less flexibility for plant placement—The geothermal plant placement depends on the accessibility of geothermal resources. Therefore, many of the locations can be isolated. The same is true for hydroelectric projects and both may require long-distance transmission lines. Geothermal does not require huge amounts of land to be flooded so its environmental footprint is much less than hydroelectric power.

 

 

 

 

Do emissions cloud geothermal’s benefits?

AIRCOOLEDBINARY-ENGLISH

Binary Geothermal Plant *

Canadian Geothermal Association approaches Canadian Government

Before I continue my discussion of the other side of geothermal, I want to draw your attention to a recent release from the Canadian Geothermal Association (CanGEA). It’s a pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. In it, CanGEA presents seven recommendations for overcoming the failure of geothermal to keep up to wind and solar in Canada. I  discussed this failure of geothermal development in Canada previously.

Geothermal emissions?

Last week I said that I would examine the issue of gas emissions such as sulfur dioxide from geothermal installations. According to the paper “Geothermal Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions“, geothermal plants emissions are much lower than those of coal or natural gas plants.  “Geothermal plants emit about 5 percent of the carbon dioxide, 1 percent of the sulfur dioxide, and less than 1 percent of the nitrous oxide emitted by a coal-fire plant of equal size,” says the report. “And certain types of geothermal plants produce near-zero emissions.”

Where do geothermal emissions come from?

These gases, which include carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane, ammonia and nitrogen, are naturally dissolved in the geothermal system: these gases can be released during the power conversion process. This release occurs if they fail to recondense during the cooling process in the energy conversion. The rate at which these gases are released depends on the technology used by the power plant.

Geothermal technology

To understand what’s involved, let’s examine the power plant technologies. According to the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), there are four types of plants:

  • Flash—The steam is separated from the water with high pressure in a steam separator. The steam then powers a generator and the water is reinjected into the reservoir. The cooled water vapour is released to the atmosphere along with non condensed gases.
  • Dry steam—No water is present so only steam runs the turbine and then it’s reinjected into the reservoir as water. Again, the uncondensed water vapour and emissions are released into the atmosphere.
  • Binary (Organic Rankine Cycle system)—In a heat exchanger, the geothermal water boils a second fluid, which has a lower boiling point than water. The fluid vapour runs the turbine and the water is reinjected in the ground. The geothermal water is in a closed loop; therefore, the emissions of hydrogen sulfide are reduced and the dissolved materials in the water such as heavy metals and other toxins remain in the returned water.
  • Flash/Binary—This process combines elements of the binary and flash processes. Again the process is a closed loop, which significantly reduces the release of any emissions or dissolved solids.
A fifth type

Last week, I described a fifth process developed by GTherm to reduce seismic activity induces by geothermal energy retrieval. In the GTherm process, the heat exchanger is at the bottom of the hole and the power generation uses two additional fluids to produce the energy. Therefore, the possibility of any emissions is near zero.

The critical step in the energy transfer process occurs when dissolved gases are released instead of being condensed and returned with the geothermal water. Using a closed system with a secondary fluid in a heat exchanger is a reasonable and dependable solution.

When dissolved gasses escape

When the industry doesn’t  use some type of binary system, unwanted gas emissions result. The Hveragerði power plant in Iceland has been accused of releasing unsafe levels (established for 2014) of hydrogen sulfide. The company, Reykjavík Energy (OR) admits that the polluting emissions are high, but insists it will not be able to adjust to the new levels until 2019.

On a sad note

Today is the 5th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Here are some details about the current status:

  • Today, thousands of residents of Futaba—the town six miles from the plant—cannot return to their contaminated homes and their lives are in limbo.
  • The long-term effect of radiation on the food supply (both agriculture and fishing) is still not understood.
  • The population’s anxiety about possible radiation effects is high.
  • Over 70 percent of Japanese are now against the continued building of nuclear power plants.
  • There continues to be questionable success in strategies to limit the contamination of groundwater.
  • The plant’s instruments  were damaged in the accident so the values from them are uncertain.

Ironically, Japan has one of the world’s largest supplies of readily accessible geothermal power. Currently ,Japan uses this power for less than one percent of its energy output. Why was nuclear power developed instead?

*Photo courtesy of Geothermal Education Office (GEO)

 

Can earthquakes shake up geothermal’s potential?

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Drilling a Geothermal Energy hole

I’ve discussed geothermal energy in previous posts and given it mostly a “rose-coloured-glasses” tint. Since then, I’ve examined it more carefully, and discovered, as with most issues, that another side exists. Three things showed up: geothermal-induced earthquakes, the release of gases such as hydrogen sulphide, and effluent water lagoons. Let’s look at the earthquakes this week.

Enhanced Geothermal  Systems (EGS)

Until recently most geothermal systems were installed in settings where the rock had natural crack sand pores that allowed the hot water to flow easily (permeability). Now installations are being developed in areas that are not as permeable so high-pressure water is injected to increase the permeability. This process is known as an enhanced geothermal system (EGS).

Induced seismicity

On of the first and most publicized of these was the earthquake that occurred in Basel, Switzerland in 2006 when Geopower Basel (GPB) consortium was using EGS. The process triggered thousands of microearthquakes until a 3.4.magnitude-caused minor non-structual damage to some buildings. The operation was put on hold and finally suspended in 2009. Since then other occurrences have been noted in various countries where EGS has been used. This occurrence is called “induced seismicity”. It appears that with EGS, the creation of spaces in the rock by forcing two rock faces to slide over each other can trigger seismic activity.

Is this problem manageable?

A lot of fear has been created around the “induced seismicity” leading to pressure to curtail EGS development. However, many countries continue to develop geothermal. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has developed a geothermal-induced seismicity protocol, which monitors seismic activity around EGS projects and provides relevant information to modify the activity to prevent seismic activity.

GNS Science, New Zealand’s leading provider of Earth, geoscience and isotope research and consultancy services reports that, “Small earthquakes are reasonably common in geothermal energy developments worldwide. “ GNS Science seismologist Dr. Steve Sherburn has explained that some of the earthquakes are naturally occurring ones while others are caused by human activity including EGS projects. Other human activity that can create “induced seismicity” includes heavy engineering and construction work, filling large reservoirs for hydro-electric power generation, mining, oil extraction, and gas production.

Solution to the earthquake problem?

The company, GTherm, claims that it has developed a technology that removes the risk of induced seismicity. Instead of installing the heat exchange above ground and pumping the groundwater up to it, this technology places the heat exchanger (heat nest) at the bottom of the well. Then a fluid travels down the well to the “heat nest” and carries the heat to the surface. “We’re basically a heat pump on steroids,” says Michael Parrella, CEO and founder of GTherm.

The company claims that this setup will allow EGS development of previously off-limits areas and could use depleted oil and gas wells. GTherm estimates that with in-hole temperatures of 250 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit would produce one megawatt per well. This may not be a very good return on the investment needed to drill these wells, which could be up to 5 miles deep. However, if geothermal developers used depleted wells, this could reduced the required investment considerably.

New government—new renewables view?

Keehn-Trudeaumania-returns-to-Canada-1200

Change arrives! What’s the effect on renewables?

Trudeau’s promises

According to the COMMONSENSECANADIAN, Prime Minister Elect, Justin Trudeau promised to end fossil fuel subsidies and to provide $200 million dollars each year in support of innovation and clean technologies in the forestry, energy, and agricultural sectors. Additionally, he’d provide $100 million in support for clean tech companies. It’s not much, but the change in attitude to climate change and to renewables raises the spirits of supporters.

 

Redirect fossil fuel subsidies to renewables

Mr. Trudeau, why not use the cancelled fossil fuel subsidies for renewables? Fund research and development for renewables. Use financial incentives for Canadians to switch to renewables and electric cars. The US has Federal incentive programs, but Canada has no federal involvement. Canada just has a piecemeal of provincial incentives.

Renewable costs

When I mention renewables, many complain about the high cost of renewables such as wind power and solar, plus electric cars have too short a range, are too expensive, or both. Usually, nobody considers that we’re in the infancy of renewables. Plus nobody accepts all of the hidden costs of burning fossil fuels such as health threats, environmental damage, and climate change. To reverse this damage, why not put a value on these costs (carbon tax, cap in trade)?. Why not use this money to subsidize renewables research?

 

Which renewables?

Solar and wind power are the two most common renewables in Canada. Unfortunately, geothermal appears to be forgotten. Geothermal is the thermal energy that is generated and stored in the earth. The energy associated with heat pumps should be called geo-exchange energy: It is not geothermal energy! I emphasize this for a reason. Natural Resources Canada has misleadingly confused geo-exchange energy with geothermal in its reports on the status of geothermal development in Canada. Actually, there has been almost zero Canadian development in this area.

What about geothermal?

I hope that geothermal energy receives considerably more attention from our new government. Geothermal that uses closed systems doesn’t produce carbon dioxide. As noted in the by the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA), BC has abundant amounts of shallow geothermal resource which have barely been touched. Additionally, deep drilling can access this resource in areas with deeper geothermal resources located across Canada. These deeper resources are at similar depths to the oil and gas wells. Perhaps, geothermal exploration and recovery could re-employ many of the currently idle drill rigs (The drilling expertise already exists!).

The most common objection that I hear is that solar and wind power don’t provide enough reliable power: Often at this point, objectors introduce nuclear energy. This is why I’ve introduced geothermal. Ask the Japanese, especially around Fukushima, if they prefer nuclear or geothermal.

Nuclear energy?

Many push nuclear energy (still only fission) as a possible renewable. They do this so they can collect the same subsidies as solar and wind. The New York Times reports that proponents insist nuclear should be included because it doesn’t produce greenhouse gases. Environmental groups object because it produces harmful waste: It also uses extraction for its fuel. Nuclear power is expensive to set up, but cheap to run—except when plants need to be refurbished.

 

No Geothermal development in Canada!?

Why has there been no significant geothermal research or development in Canada? Why did BC opt for the overwhelming environmental costs of a mega-dam project for hydroelectricity (the Site C Dam)? It’s the province with the greatest amount of shallow geothermal resources. The Site C Dam is touted as green because hydroelectric power on the surface doesn’t produce carbon dioxide.  Unfortunately, the overall project (construction and the flooding for the reservoir) will be devastating for the environment. The exact details of this devastation are documented by Watershed Sentinel.

In November 2010, Mitchell Anderson stated in the Tyee that, “And what could Canada do with a major investment in our abundant and completely undeveloped geothermal resources? CanGEA estimates that for $20 billion, we could install 5,000 MW of clean perpetual power, while creating 30,000 person years of manufacturing and construction employment and 9,000 permanent jobs. This could be achieved by 2015 if we start now. Interestingly, 5,000 MW of geothermal power would be almost six times larger than the generating capacity of the Site C dam. The geothermal project could be built in half the time, and would be 45 per cent more cost effective per unit of energy. And while $20 billion sounds like a lot of money, it is less than two thirds what the Canadian taxpayer will provide over the next 10 years in natural gas write-offs for Alberta oil sands operators. These are some of the wealthiest corporations in the world.”

Canadians are among the best in the world at exploration and drilling for geothermal because of their experience with fossil fuels; ironically, CanGEA experts are producing more than 20 per cent of the world’s geothermal energy, but just not here in Canada.

The editors of Desmog Canada asked Canadian geothermal companies and experts why geothermal has not taken off in Canada, and they compiled this list:

  1. Cheap resources in Canada—resources such as water power in BC and fossil fuels in Alberta and Saskatchewan: however the costs for these increase dramatically when the environment cost is factored into them.
  2. Upfront cost and risk is high
  3. Limited government interest and support—geothermal is virtually frozen out of government support for development
  4. Lack of a geothermal plant in Canada reduces proponents’ influence – This becomes a “Catch 22” situation.
  5. No price on carbon— with a carbon tax, geothermal could be economical

Unfortunately at the same time, the government of Canada has lumped geothermal in with all renewables, which has virtually left it without any effective support.  Natural Resources touts the South Meager project in BC as “the most advanced geothermal power project in Canada.” In a web search, I was unable to find any information about this project after 2009. Also, in the Natural Resources publication, figures for Geo Exchange heating are quoted as geothermal figures to give the misleading impression that something has actually been accomplished with geothermal. These are not figures for geothermal energy—there are no results for that! Canada’s geothermal development seems to be lacking any real commitment on the part of the federal government.

What’s geothermal energy?

I want to start examining alternative energy sources especially renewables. Here are some of the renewables I would like to examine:
⁃ wind power
⁃ solar
⁃ wave action and tidal power
⁃ geothermal

Geothermal energy not geo-exchange energy

The alternative that really intrigues me is geothermal energy—the thermal energy that is generated and stored in the earth. The energy associated with heat pumps and residential heating and cooling is actually misnamed: We should call it geo-exchange energy, not geothermal energy.

 

Iceland is a great example of what can be done with geothermal energy. It’s amazing that Iceland gets 85% of it’s prime energy from local renewables – geothermal, hydroelectric. In addition to using geothermal to generate electricity, Iceland uses its geothermal resources to directly heat 90 percent of the nation’s households. Iceland plans to increase its usage of renewables to 100 percent. See Geothermal_power_in_Iceland.iceland-585197_1280

Iceland may seem like a special case, but there are geothermal features such as hot springs and geysers in other parts of the world. Some examples are Yellowstone (USA), New Zealand, Kamchatka (Russia), and Japan. Other areas of the world have geothermal activity near the surface including southwestern BC. Drilling can reach the geothermal activity in areas where there is none near the surface.Geothermal_2

 

In Canada, the geothermal industry has yet to gain traction despite having world class resources.

According to the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA) here are some of the advantages of Geothermal energy:

  • Geothermal is the cleanest source of electricity and heat. It uses less land and producing fewer emissions than any other energy source.
  • Geothermal power is price competitive. Its price is often lower than other renewables and even fossil fuel alternatives.
  • Geothermal power projects create significantly more jobs than comparable natural gas-fired power plants.
  • Geothermal power has even higher capacity factors than coal, natural gas, nuclear, and large hydro. The net capacity factor of a power plant is the ratio of its actual output over a period of time, to its potential output if it were possible for it to operate at full nameplate capacity continuously over the same period of time.
  • Geothermal power facilities produce useful by-product heat.  This heat can be integrated with greenhouses, fish farms, and food processing. You can also directly drill for heat.
  • Geothermal can provide electricity, heat, and food security to Canada’s northern and remote communities.  It would cost much less than fossil fuels.
  • Geothermal resources are found across the country, especially in Western and Northern Canada.
  • Geothermal power plants provide long term cost certainty. This certainty helps stabilize electricity rates, providing an important protection for consumers.
  • With proper heat reservoir management, geothermal resources will never run out. Geothermal plants can run indefinitely.

Geothermal

I’ll explore the technology and possibilities but first I want to examine the status of geothermal energy in Canada. I was surprised to discover even with abundant sources of geothermal energy both shallow and deep there has been almost no development of or research into geothermal energy in Canada. See CanGEA.

CanGEA estimates that with current technology over 5,000 megawatts (MW) are available from the shallow sources and that the production of this energy could create 8,500 operations and maintenance jobs. It could also result in 20,000 part-time construction jobs. If this energy displaced an equivalent amount of coal-fire power, CO2 emissions could be reduced by 25 megatons a year. Environment Canada reported total CO2 emissions of about 699 megatons for 2012. The use of geothermal could have resulted in an annual saving for CO2 emissions of 4%.

The future with the use of deeper sources is even more promising. CanGEA estimates that another 10,000 MW more could be available from deep geothermal sources. The deep sources require enhanced geothermal systems (EGS)—this technology is still under development.

Perhaps if we investigate why Canada is not involving itself in geothermal development, that will tell us what we need to do to develop it. Remember, this is geothermal energy not low-temperature, geo-exchange energy systems (or geothermal heat pump systems), which use heat pumps for heating and cooling individual buildings.