Tag Archives: EGS

There’s enough deep geothermal to power all of Canada. So why can’t we try just a bit?

How much power generation in Canada comes from geothermal energy? Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

How much of Canada could be powered by geothermal power? All of it. Many times over.

There is, of course, a catch or two. Cost is one. Location is another, because not all the best sites are near population centres. Still, as two new studies from Canada’s top geothermal researchers show, there’s a heck of a lot of geothermal resource to work with if we tried. And as I point out in my Clean Break column this morning, geothermal could be just as significant a contributor to Canada’s power needs in 20 year2 or 30 years as hydroelectric power is today. Again, that’s if we tried.

Stephen Grasby, a geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada, and co-author Jacek Majorowicz, an Alberta-based geothermal consultant, have come out with two studies looking at enhanced geothermal system (EGS) potential in Canada. One study will appear online this month in the Journal of Geophysics and Engineering (I was expecting it out by now). It looks at the overall potential of EGS in Canada. Another just published study, this one in the journal Natural Resources Research, looks specifically at high-potential regions where EGS development would offer the biggest bang for the buck. “Results show areas with significant EGS potential in northern Alberta, northeastern British Columbia, and southern Northwest Territories related to high heat flow and thermal blanketing of thick sedimentary cover,” they wrote. “Estimated installation costs in 2008 dollars are under $2 million per megawatt.”

That’s about $6 billion for 3,000 megawatts — more than competitive with nuclear, not just with respect to capital costs, but also operational and maintenance costs. Also, none of the high costs associated with storing spent fuel indefinitely or with decommissioning old plants. This figure, of course, is for developing the most promising EGS projects. Cost will rise depending on location, rock conditions, availability of an outside water source, and depth of required drilling. Still, the studies make clear the opportunities are immense.  The Geophysics and Engineering study, for example, said projects could be developed right across the country, including parts of Ontario, if you drill deep enough. Over time, as drilling costs fall and expertise of EGS climbs, this could happen one day.

“At 10 kilometres we can expect EGS temperatures in the 150 to 200 degrees C range across most of Canada, except some areas of the Canadian shield,” wrote Grasby and Majorowicz. “Given the widespread distribution of geothermal energy, and the high energy content, the potential geothermal resource in Canada is significant,” they concluded.

Sure, there’s risk to heading in this direction, just as there was risk of investing in the early days of the oil sands or nuclear industry. I would argue there’s much more risk drilling for oil offshore in the deepest ocean waters. For example, an accident could happen and you could end up with the equivalent of an oil volcano erupting kilometres below the surface. (Okay, now I’m being facetious).

The fact remains: geothermal power is baseload, it’s clean, it’s plentiful, and it can be done using proven drilling and rock fracturing techniques in Alberta’s oil patch. The Canadian Geothermal Association is targeting development of 5,000 megawatts of geothermal power by 2015 using conventional techniques. Imagine, if we started doing that development now in parallel with EGS research and development, what we could accomplish by 2030? It could be possible to wean Alberta entirely off coal, for one, and it would put us in a good position as we move to electrify the transportation sector.

These two Canadian studies come three years after the release of a groundbreaking U.S. study led by experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their research suggested EGS in the United States could realistically supply about 100,000 megawatts of power generation capacity by 2050, assuming the proper policies and R&D investments were committed. The MIT study didn’t cover Canada, but several experts who participated in that study said their conclusions could also apply to the Great White North. Still, it’s nice to have our own data — and this is exactly what Grasby and Majorowicz have given us.

Canada, clearly, needs a national geothermal development strategy — and it needs one now.

Time to beat the drum.

Even the U.K. is doing enhanced geo: Where’s Canada?

Canada, with its vast territory and expertise in deep drilling, is still relativelysilent on the potential for geothermal power. Meanwhile, the U.K. is even leaping ahead of us. A tourist attracton in Cornwall, England, called The Eden Project has partnered up with a company called EGS Energy that will see a 3 megawatt enhanced geothermal plant built, with plans for further expansion throughout the area. Two four kilometre deep boreholes will be drilled into hot granite rock. Water will be brought in and pumped into one borehole and will travel through the hot rock to a second borehole, picking up heat along the way. The water will then be pumped back at around 150 degrees C. A secondary fluid, with a lower boiling point than water, extracts the heat from the hot water and is turned into vapour to power a binary turbine. The water, now cooled, is then reinjected back into the first well to reheat and continue the cycle, which is a closed loop.

The U.K. plant is expected to be operational by 2012. Needless to say, this approach could easily be done throughout Alberta, particularly in the oil sands, even in some locations in Ontario and other provinces. If the U.K. can do it, hell, certainly there are parts of Canada that can. In late May the Obama administration committed $140 million to geothermal demonstration projects, $80 million for enhanced geothermal R&D, and $100 million for new drilling techniques and innovation.

And Canada? The big goose egg.

Climate change increasing subsurface temperatures

(Read to the end of this post for an update on studies and events around high-temperature geothermal opportunities in Canada)

The data is old — dating back to 1985 and earlier — but the Geological Survey of Canada is beginning to put together an inventory of geothermal resources across the country. The first study, published online last month in the journal Natural Resources Research, calculated total potential geothermal energy down to 250 metres. One of the most interesting findings, however, was that the temperature gradient wasn’t as steep as historically expected. The reason, the researchers concluded, is that  increases in surface temperature due to global warming was causing the first 50 metres of subsurface to also warm. It means the gap between temperature 50 metres down and temperature 100 metres and 200 metres down has narrowed. (See Toronto Star article here, in which researcher Stephen Grasby says in some locations shallow subsurface temperature has increased by a few degrees Celsius).

They put a positive spin on this finding, suggesting that there’s more thermal energy for home and residential heat-pump systems to tap, and that this energy will displace the use of fossil fuels. Hardly something to cheer about, however, given the initial causes of the warming. Continue reading Climate change increasing subsurface temperatures

Geothermal in Alberta finally getting some push

It’s still a long shot, not technologically as much as politically, but more voices are beginning to speak out about the potential for geothermal heat and power generation in Alberta, a province that’s heavily dependent on coal and where the oil sands rely on clean gas to produce the dirtiest of liquid petro products.

The Pembina Institute came out with a report this month that explores the many ways Alberta could transition away from coal and toward more sustainable and cleaner forms of electricity generation. I was most impressed with the section on geothermal, given that in Canada there hasn’t been much interest in this renewable source of power, with the exception of yours truly and a dozen or so industry and academic folks who are trying to draw attention to this immense opportunity.

According to the Pembina report, “very little information has been gathered on the size of Alberta’s geothermal potential,” however “research data that is available shows that the potential is enormous.” Continue reading Geothermal in Alberta finally getting some push

Geothermal power at least on radar in Canada…

Those of you who frequent this blog understand my interest with geothermal power and my frustration that we don’t take it seriously in Canada, despite the massive resource this country offers. We’re the only major country on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” with no commercial geothermal power plants, so we haven’t even tapped the low-hanging fruit, let alone explored the opportunity presented by enhanced geothermal technologies. Continue reading Geothermal power at least on radar in Canada…