Enhanced Geothermal Systems

Heat from the earth has been tapped for a long time. However while conventional geothermal systems utilise the energy from underground only at locations with ideal geological features – where hot water and thus steam already exists -, now also less favourable places can enjoy the benefits of geothermal energy – thanks to Enhanced or Engineered Geothermal Systems (EGS).

These systems use the potential of the “hot dry rocks” under our feet for generating heat and electricity. In the case of the conventional geothermal energy, known as hydrothermal, hot water is in situ, while the new technology artificially fractures hot dry rocks, and then circulates cold water, which eventually turns into steam and so drives turbines on the surface. Later the water is re-injected and the loop is started again.

According to a study by the MIT Enhanced Geothermal Systems have the potential to provide 100 GWe generating capacity just for the US in the next fifty years. This technology is scalable and can provide a continuous base load, but further investigations, including field tests, are needed to determine the real benefits.

Potential challenges include that it may cause minor tremors, and it requires a rather large initial investment, which may hinder companies and countries who are willing to finance such projects.

Australia is already leading the way in testing this technology, while there are further trials in Germany, as well as France and the US. In the UK the Eden Project is one of the latest examples.

According to the forecasts of the European Commission EGS systems can offer cost-effective electricity virtually anywhere, with an estimated potential of 1 GW and a maximum potential of 6 GW for the EU countries by 2020 – about one per cent of gross electricity consumption. For heating purposes the potential is even higher. The EU has supported about ten projects since 2002, including the key pilot project in Soultz, France.

Enhanced or Engineered Geothermal Systems thus offer great potential both for heat and electricity generation and hopefully with more investment it can be developed into a promising new energy source.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse 

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One Comment to “Enhanced Geothermal Systems”

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