Much of the UK’s focus on renewable energy has so far concentrated on utilising established technologies such as wind, hydrogen and solar to achieve the UK’s 2050 Net Zero targets. However, geothermal energy production has the potential to significantly, and reliably, contribute to the country’s renewable energy targets. We are excited to have been involved in the procurement and placement of significant packages of work in connection with the Eden Geothermal Project. This experience, combined with our expertise across all technologies in the green energy sector, naturally leads us to look ahead at the role geothermal energy will play going forwards in the UK’s energy generation portfolio.
Geothermal energy production is prevalent in several countries with significant tectonic activity, such as New Zealand, Italy, USA and Iceland. However, developments in technology mean that non-volcanic regions, such as the UK, are now potentially capable of utilising such methods for renewable power generation.
Whilst the use of low/medium heat geothermal sources have been used in the UK for generations (such as the Roman Baths), there are currently no deep geothermal plants in the UK. This will quickly change, with the country’s first two plants currently in development: the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power Project and the Eden Geothermal Project.
What is Geothermal Power?
In simple terms, geothermal power is generated by drilling into the Earth’s crust to depths where the temperature from the planet’s molten core is enough to dramatically heat liquids pumped in from the surface. For the Eden Geothermal Project, the target distance of 4.5km from the surface is expected to see temperatures of 170-190 degrees Celsius.
This heated liquid can then be utilised in two ways. Firstly, the heated liquid is brought back to the surface and used to heat a separate body of water for onward use in the local commercial and domestic areas. Secondly, the heated liquid is used to generate steam which drives turbines, in turn generating electricity.
The Potential for Geothermal Power
Tectonic and geological surveys estimate that the UK, excluding Scotland, has the potential to generate 20% of the UK’s current electricity demands and a significant amount of the nation’s heat demand. This is particularly striking as the significant presence of granite in Scotland is promising, meaning that the UK’s true potential for geothermal generation is likely to be substantially greater than this.
The Eden Geothermal Project, once fully operational, has the potential to supply renewable heat to the Eden Project and neighbouring industries equivalent to the heat used by more than 35,000 homes, or renewable electricity to that consumed by around 14,000 homes. The United Down Project, slightly ahead of the Eden Geothermal Project in its schedule, has just entered into a deal with Ecotricity to provide 3MW of power to the National Grid, enough to power an estimated 10,000 homes. This is thought to be the first time geothermal energy is used to supply the national grid.
There are numerous benefits to the use of geothermal energy, namely its continuous availability, which is something that wind and solar energy cannot boast. Moreover, once drilling is complete, the surface infrastructure is relatively inconspicuous – equivalent to several shipping containers.
Market development in the UK
As can probably be expected, a trend we have seen through advising on geothermal energy project procurement is the use of former oil and gas sector supply chains. Both the Eden Geothermal Project and the United Down Project utilise the same drilling equipment commonly used in the excavation phase of an oil and gas project. It seems clear that the emergence of a strong UK geothermal energy market could give rise to a new lease of life for drilling equipment which would otherwise might be marked for be decommissioning, as energy trends move away from traditional fossil fuel sources. Similarly, there are significant opportunities for the highly specialised oil and gas labour force from a legal perspective, this is not without its problems, as the typical risk profile of an oil or gas project is commonly difficult to reconcile with that of a green energy project. Collaboration is, as always, essential in order to understand the risks, how best to manage them and where responsibility should reasonably sit in any given scenario.
As UK geothermal energy relies upon the transference of technology and skills to a new market, inevitably questions arise around procurement strategy, contract form and risk allocation. The coming together of participants from oil and gas and renewables backgrounds (as we have seen in wave and tidal and offshore wind for example) requires some exploration and careful navigation to ensure that participant expectations are managed and appropriate risk profiles are obtained. Seeking the right advice at the right time is critical. We are well placed to provide this support, given our proven expertise across all renewables technologies and wider infrastructure projects, including oil and gas projects.
If you would like to speak to us about our experience advising on geothermal energy project procurement and funding, as well as how we can assist you with your project, then please do feel free to get in touch.