Welsh coal mine set for geothermal transformation following £9.4m fund

A council in Wales has been awarded £6.5m in European Union (EU) funds to explore how water from an underground mine can be used as a geothermal energy source to heat nearby homes.

The multi-million-pound investment will aim to use naturally-heated water found in the former Caerau colliery near Maesteg in Wales to heat 150 nearby homes, a church and a school. The majority of the project cost will be covered by the EU, with the UK Government, Bridgend County Borough Council and Energy Systems Catapult adding an extra £2.9m.

Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said: “Our ambition is for our nation to be a world leader in pioneering low carbon energy. This is a cutting-edge model of generating a clean source of renewable energy, drawing on the legacy of our coal mining heritage.

“It will not only attract further investment to the area, but also address fuel poverty by cutting energy bills and has the potential to be rolled out to Wales and beyond. This EU-funded scheme will also create jobs both within the initial construction period and the ongoing supply chain, as well as offering training and educational opportunities in a very innovative area.”

Water found in the mine has been naturally heated by the earth and Bridgend County Borough Council is researching how it can be extracted using heat pump technology and a network of pipes to heat the nearby community.

The scale of the scheme, which has an exhibition planned this Spring, will be the first of its kind in the UK. Experts involved in the project claim that the mine-water won’t enter into resident properties, with plans in place to mirror the world’s first mine-water power station in Heerlen in Holland.

A feasibility study from the British Geological Survey is currently underway, to determine if the water is hot enough to heat homes. Temperatures will need to reach more than 20C to be effective and results are expected by the end of February.

If successful, construction will begin in 2020, and could be expanded to cover up to 1,000 local homes.

Councillor Richard Young, the council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, said: “The volume of water and its temperature makes the scheme possible and now we have been awarded £6.5m of EU funds from the Welsh Government, the next phase is to work through the full scope of the scheme and put everything in place to deliver a trailblazing project for the Llynfi Valley.

“It will also act as a catalyst for other energy project investments, possibly through the City Deal and other investment.”

Geothermal bonds

The Maesteg project isn’t the first time that communities have attempted to harness geothermal energy.

Last year, Peer-to-peer finance platform Abundance Investment launched the United Downs Geothermal bond, in an attempt to raise £5m to help construct the UK’s first commercial geothermal plant near Redruth in Cornwall. 

The geothermal project was awarded a £10.6m grant from the European Regional Development Fund and £2.4m of public funding from Cornwall County Council. The project captures heat held in rocks and pressurised water below the earth’s surface to create a low-carbon electricity supply.

The plant will have a capacity of 3MW and will likely generate enough power to supply 5,500 homes annually.

Matt Mace

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