For me, the past few weeks have been interesting and at times exhilarating. DEEP’s announcement of funding from the Canadian Federal Government through the Emerging Renewable Energy Program (NRCan/ERPP) in January was a welcome breath of fresh air for the geothermal industry. With the possibility of additional geothermal projects being funded, we are indeed living in unusual times - times that have not been seen since the 1970s and 1990s.
I have always been emphatic that government must play a role in moving geothermal forward in Canada. DEEP’s announcement of government support kickstarting their project is truly a breath of fresh air for the geothermal community. High startup costs remain a hurdle in the Canadian marketplace, where cheap gas for heating and coal-fired electrical generation is hard to surmount for an industry that must drill deep, wide-diameter, expensive holes in order to create sufficient energy to be profitable. But profitable these projects will be – on a generational time scale.
Despite global energy studies showing geothermal energy to be cost-competitive in the global marketplace (see for example LAZARD November 2018) geothermal had barely moved an inch in the Canadian marketplace - until January. Government funding is finally helping to kick-start an industry where Canadians can shine internationally. As Canadians, we should be exporting our can-do attitudes, our drilling expertise and our extreme environment technology globally. We should be leaders in greening the energy sector by reducing our own carbon footprint. We should be innovators, showing how to solve tough problems in the energy transformation that is happening globally. We should be using our smarts to move society towards greener options which create smart cities and communities – why aren’t we?
Although wind and solar are at the forefront of renewables, energy diversification is pertinent to expand renewable energy usage. A baseload, dispatchable power with infrastructure longevity like geothermal energy can provide energy in conjunction with other renewables to further reduce reliability on fossil fuels.
The time for geothermal to be a significant part of the Canadian mix of renewable energy has come. It should be, the leading renewable energy source in Canada’s portfolio of carbon reducing, industry “greening,” renewable energy sources. With vast areas of the county underlain by the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin and other sedimentary basins in the east and north, we have the “low hanging fruit” to exploit in the short term. With extensive experience in drilling technology, and, combined with coming from a very cold and dark part of globe, Canada should be the global leader in low- to medium-temperature geothermal development, providing the blueprint to a sustainable, greener future for all global inhabitants.
This is not about a competition between technologies or hydrocarbon versus geothermal energy – we need all of them! This is about preserving our hydrocarbon resources for the energy-dense and unique chemical applications that only hydrocarbons can fill. It is about not wasting this valuable hydrocarbon resource on heating our homes. This is about a sustainable and ecologically sound way to preserve our future and our children’s futures. This is about using the right resource for the right application.
Let’s take a different perspective and see geothermal energy as a means of preserving our hydrocarbon resources for applications for which they are uniquely suited. Geothermal, when used instead of hydrocarbons for thermal applications (such as heating our houses), can help sustain our economy on a generational time scale, while preserving the valuable hydrocarbons for our children’s children.
The upfront costs of geothermal development are significant and the payback periods are longer and at lower rates of return than the hydrocarbon industry. But if we keep using hydrocarbons for applications like space heating of homes and industries, they will run out and we will be left with an impoverished society that has not made the investment in its future. Let’s embrace geothermal as an industry that can prove itself by helping the energy transformation from hydrocarbons to this uniquely sustainable, renewable, energy source which provides base load thermal energy to our cities, rural communities, and industries.
I am just returning from two trips. The first was to Ottawa with Sean Collins (President, Terrapin Geothermics), Kirsten Marcia (CEO, DEEP) and Leo Groenewoud (Chief Geoscientist, DEEP). Together we met with several groups from NRCan, as well as a few politicians. Our message was simple – thank you for the recent support of the geothermal industry and please don’t forget geothermal as an important base load renewable energy source for Canada’s energy transformation. We prepared a short position paper (attached) for distribution. Consider this a work in progress and an effort to highlight why we want to expand geothermal research, innovation, and development.
The second trip was to attend the European Geothermal Conference. The conference is held every two years and this year it was in The Hague, Netherlands. What I witnessed was a truly transformed industry! The European community is using geothermal as one of its most important transformative renewable energy sources. There has always been strong support for geothermal in Europe - the birthplace of electrical generation, spas and district heating, but now there is renewed vigour to significantly increase capacity across the continent.
There are two documents I would encourage you to read – both road maps! The first is from the European Technology and Innovation Platform who have had a working group on geothermal for several years. Their road map has just been published as “European Technology and Innovation Platform for Deep Geothermal”. It is full of ideas for technological advancement, innovative solutions to various problems, as well as how to progress from research and Innovation to deployment and development. There are many lessons Canada can take from this document.
The second document is the geothermal roadmap “Masterplan for Geothermal Energy in the Netherlands” subtitled “A broad foundation for sustainable heat supply”. Here is a country taking its energy transformation seriously! Complete with technical plans and organizational implications, they clearly state their ambition to use geothermal energy as part of the mix of renewables to achieve their carbon reduction targets. A further impetus is the phasing out of a significant gas resource which is at the end of its life and generating earthquakes from extraction.
Take a look at these two visions. Let’s build a road map for Canada. A road map that builds on our strengths as a nation of innovators and technology leaders. We have the talent and knowhow to help ourselves and the world find solutions to its energy needs. Geothermal has a role to play in helping us make this cold and dark place sustainable and eco-friendly while at the same time, helping the world maintain its standard of living, contributing to the sustainability of society, and improving the quality of life for Canadians as citizens of the world.
June 15, 2019 | Catherine Hickson PhD PGeo, President Geothermal Canada