Eamon Ryan opens consultation on Ireland’s use of geothermal energy

2021-12-29 20:16:01 By : Ms. Tina Ren

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Iceland’s Blue Lagoon: volcanic regions have long used accessible geothermal energy for industry and recreation. Photograph: Dukas/Universal Images via Getty

The Government has opened up a public consultation on the “exciting potential” of geothermal energy for heating and cooling buildings and for generating electricity.

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan on Tuesday published a draft policy statement on the use of such energy, which is heat from either the Earth’s core or the sun that is stored by rocks beneath the crust of the planet.

Mr Ryan said he wanted the statement to focus attention on the potential of geothermal energy and address “barriers” to its development in the Republic.

The statement describes geothermal projects as “expensive” and “subject to more initial uncertainty” than other forms of renewable energy, such as wind or solar power, because they involve drilling into the sub-surface to determine the available energy at specific locations.

It notes “an inherent risk” that any drilling exercise will not produce sufficient heat to make the project commercially viable.

The statement proposes that the Geoscience Regulation Office (GSRO) of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications will become the Geothermal Regulatory Authority. Any proposed geothermal project above a certain scale will require an exploration licence from the GSRO and later, if the resource is commercially exploited, a “capture lease”.

The department also intends to establish an advisory group, with members drawn from communities, environmental groups, regulatory agencies and those working on geothermal energy projects.

The overall aim is to “give certainty” about the ownership and use of geothermal energy, create a licensing process for its exploration and harnessing and establish a system of reporting on projects.

The Green Party leader said geothermal energy was “a secure, reliable, local, renewable source of energy” and that technological advances over the past decade meant it could play “a significant role” in the State’s transition to a carbon neutral and circular economy.

“Engagement with the public, community groups, industry and academia is critically important to developing our geothermal potential,” he said.

“I would encourage all interested parties to engage in this public consultation. It is an important step in addressing the barriers to the development of geothermal energy in Ireland. ”

Observations on the draft policy statement can be submitted by email to GSPD@decc.gov.ie until March 1st, 2022, with information sessions and other consultative events expected to take place in February.

While geothermal energy has long been used in volcanic regions such as in Iceland, Italy and New Zealand – where heat from beneath the earth’s crust is easily accessible – new technologies have seen it adopted in non-volcanic countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the UK and Germany.

Some of these technologies are already being used in the Republic, from small systems to single houses to larger systems used in industrial and retail buildings. But it is believed the more complex systems with higher output that are seen in other countries could help the State reach its climate goals if replicated here.

The department highlighted a need for greater data collection on the State’s geothermal resources as well as further research on the economics of geothermal energy projects. Although the temperature of the earth is estimated to rise 25 degrees for every kilometre beneath the surface of Ireland, the State’s geothermal potential is “not yet fully understood”.

A study by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland found that up to 54 per cent of domestic, commercial and public sector demand for heating in Ireland could be met by district heating systems, with geothermal energy an important source of heat for this.

Geothermal energy can also be used for multiple industrial activities such as drying cement blocks, heating greenhouses, processing dairy products and brewing beer.

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