Could geothermal energy solve Scotland’s renewable heat dilemma?

Plans to drill a deep geothermal well beneath the city of Aberdeen could deliver heating to thousands of nearby homes and an exhibition centre as Scotland looks to accelerate progress towards its goal of 11% non-electrical heat demand coming from renewable sources by 2020.

A Government-funded report suggests that the new demonstration scheme, which would exploit geothermal energy through a pipe stretching almost 1.2 miles into the ground, could help position the region as a global energy hub and heighten the potential of this form of energy for the rest of the UK.

Aberdeen City Council says it is “willing to support” a bid to fund the “fracking free” scheme which would provide a decarbonised heat supply to local dwellings and the proposed Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC).

A feasibility study revealed that the project would cost around £2.3m to build and would save 22,170 tonnes of carbon emissions over its lifetime.

Working with an anaerobic digestion plant that also proposed for the AECC site, the well would save the £500,000 cost that would have been required for a gas boiler to power the plant.

Welcoming the proposal, WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “Thanks to the growth in renewables and the closure of fossil-fuel power stations, Scotland is well on its way to de-carbonising its electricity system. Sadly, the same cannot be said for how we heat our homes, businesses and water – with just 3 per cent of that heat coming from renewable sources.

“Along with other technologies, geothermal schemes like that being proposed in Aberdeen offer the chance to tap into large quantities of pollution-free energy – and should be encouraged. To help unlock the full potential of technologies such as geothermal or district heating, we call upon all political parties to commit to a Warm Homes Act that would help bring clean and affordable warmth to thousands of households and businesses.”

Policy roadmap

According to the latest figures from the Scottish Government, Scotland produced enough heat from renewable sources to meet between 3.7% and 3.8% of non-electrical heat demand in 2014 – up from 1% in 2009 but still a long way short of the 11% target set for 2020.

Last summer, the Scottish Government released a new policy roadmap which set out its approach to decarbonising the heat system. The Heat Policy Statement outlined a number of new approaches to renewable heat, such as the designation of energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority, and the funding of feasibility studies into the potential for geothermal energy in Scotland.

Scotland’s pioneering spirit in this area was welcomed by the renewables industry and sparked calls for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to investigate the potential of geothermal energy across the UK. At the time, a DECC spokesperson told edie that it was difficult to comment on the department’s approach to geothermal energy as the Government was  yet to lay out its plans for the technology.

Earlier this month, the Green Investment Bank announced plans to upgrade a district heating scheme in the north of Scotland, providing a major renewables boost to the region of Caithness.

George Ogleby



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