Hopes of new focus on 'hot rocks' energy as fracking furore mounts
Hope are growing that shale-gas fracking protests will result in a new spotlight being shone on the Westcountry's 'hot rocks' potential as a green energy powerhouse.
Penzance-based EGS Energy has said that controversy over energy company Cuadrilla's test drilling site in West Sussex, could generate increased investment support for its development of sustainable geothermal technologies, which involve boring into rock deep under ground.
EGS is the industry lead on a proposed multi-million pound scheme being undertaken with the Eden Project. It aims to tap into the natural heat stored by the granite 'spine' which runs deep below the county.
It received planning permission for the Eden Project site over two years ago, but the funding package for the development has not been completed despite to what EGS describes as "substantial initial interest" from large industrial companies.
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If built, the geothermal plant could generate up to 4MW of electrical capacity for use by Eden, with a surplus enough for 5,000 homes.
EGS has already lobbied DECC for direct funding support for a deep geothermal well in Cornwall, to spur on the development of its pilot plant.
In response to further representations from the industry, DECC has commissioned global engineering company WS Atkins to undertake an external report into the potential for deep geothermal in the UK, which is due for publication at the end of this month.
EGS Energy's managing director Guy Macpherson-Grant said: "The Government seems to be full-square behind shale gas fracking and so we would hope that [it] will move to support deep geothermal upon publication of the report.
"Deep geothermal is a clean and sustainable source of non-fossil fuel energy, and the focus on shale gas only serves to highlight this."
Drill-down geothermal engineering is backed by environmentalists as a clean, green energy solution.
Doug Parr, chief scientist at environmental campaign group Greenpeace, told WMN: "Harnessing the heat trapped underground causes virtually no pollution or greenhouse gas emissions – something that surely can't be said for fracking.
"We don't need new ways of extracting fossil fuels – what we need now are investments in clean technologies."
Acknowledging face-value similarities to shale-gas fracking processes, Mr Macpherson-Grant emphasised there are "significant" differences between the two.
"It's important to recognise that the geology and the stress associated with deep geothermal are different to those of shale gas," he said.
The proposed scheme at Eden would see two or three wells drilled into the bedrock, with a life-span of at least 20 years.
"This will be at a minimum 4km depth, so at least 3km below water-table, presenting a minimal risk to the environment," said Mr Macpherson-Grant.
"In comparison, shale gas development in the USA has typically required upwards of 100 wells with some involving thousands of wells, in order to be economic.
"Each well may be fracked 10 or more times, and this may involve complex chemical additives."
EGS Energy has developed deep geothermal plants in Europe, including in France, where there is a ban on shale gas fracking, but its government is exploring the potential of hot rocks energy.
Mr Macpherson-Grant said: "The development at the Eden Project can be seen as a pilot project for a whole industry that in the future could provide up to 20% of the UK's average annual required electricity capacity – cleanly.
"Additionally, the use of such a readily available source of hot water for industrial application will enhance job prospects and the local economy for a long time into the future.
"It's hoped that the report will both stimulate further, substantive interest in the sector from private industry and financial organisations, as well as provide a rationale for DECC to make public funding available for the first 4,500m deep geothermal well in Cornwall."