Wed, 01 April, 2020
As the tragedy of Covid-19 takes hold of the global economy, leaving no area or country untouched by its malevolence, it has brought into focus the need for greater localised sustainability. Although crude oil prices have plummeted due to an actual and perceived lack of demand, there is still a geo-political crisis raging, clearly demonstrating that we cannot rely on world order being maintained and the need to move to low carbon, local energy production is an imperative.
Geothermal as an alternative
Wind and solar offer good alternatives to imported fossil fuels but, without large battery storage systems that draw down on finite resources (lithium, cobalt, tin, copper etc.), they cannot offer base-load capability and of course only provide (predominantly) energy in the form of electricity.
Geothermal Energy, on the other hand, once installed, requires little in the way of natural resources and, where the geology is suitable, can provide electricity and heat from a single source and on a predictable 24/7 basis. As a large proportion of the global energy requirement is used as heat, it would seem to make good sense not to convert one form of energy (wind/solar) into electricity and then convert it yet again into heat!
So, you may ask, “why are we not doing this today"?
Well, in many places we are, but in so many more places we are not. For now, most projects have been in regions that have high-enthalpy geothermal sources or where there are fluids within deep reservoirs that have elevated temperatures. To exploit geothermal energy on a global basis requires a more cost-effective way of reaching suitable depths, where temperatures are higher (normal geothermal gradients are in the region of a 20 – 400 Celsius increase for every 1,000m drill depth) and allow for fluids to be circulated back to the surface, so the geothermal heat can be exploited for heat and/or heat and power generation.
Geo-Drill solutions – A holistic approach
With the advances that the GeoDrill project is working on, the cost of drilling (usually a high proportion of the overall cost) such wells will be drastically reduced. It will also allow for a reduction in the site footprint of the drilling operations as well as minimising environmental disruption, such as noise and emissions. Once drilled the heated fluids can be circulated through district schemes and, possibly, localised off-grid electricity production in the 30 – 50 MWe range, making communities more sustainable and less subject to global issues.
A promising first year!
The project has made significant progress in its first year with respect to the development of coatings and new GO-based materials to prolong the life of drilling components. Innovative sensor materials that will enable real time monitoring of the drilling environment are also being developed in parallel to the extensive work on simulations and design of the novel mud hammer. The consortium now looks forward to lab scale analysis with development and testing of prototypes in real environments!
If we only learn one lesson from Covid-19, it should be that whilst we may think we have a robust global economy, it can be brought to its knees rapidly, by the tiniest of players.