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Geothermal energy — untold resources beneath our feet


Among the grants the Government of Canada made in February as part of the ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative, it provided $800,000 to Hydro-Québec to study deep geothermal energy.

Hydro-Quebec’s research arm, IREQ, is going to study the potential for an enhanced geothermal system (EGS) for producing electricity in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. The project will identify potential regions and sites and will include an in depth study for developing a pilot project.

Geothermal energy draws hot water from below the surface of the earth. Natural reservoirs around three kilometres below the surface can be tapped, but enhanced geothermal systems use an injection well to drill into hot, dry rock, more than 150 degrees C, at around nine kilometres deep. Fluid is injected into the well and heated in the rock, producing seam that rises to drive turbines and generate power.

An article in the Winter 2015 edition of the PEG, the magazine of the Association of Professional Engineers of Alberta, discussed the potential for geothermal energy in that province. Written by Jane Marshall, the article cited a study by the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) that says Canada’s geothermal potential is more than a million times our current consumption of electricity.

Much of the energy is inaccessible and out of the range of transmission lines, but the article cited Dr. Michael Moore, a professor at the University of Calgary, who has studied geothermal energy for CSG. He believes there’s a huge potential for alternative energies including geothermal, wind and solar to connect to the Alberta grid.

The PEG article also quotes Alison Thompson, P.Eng., chair of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA). She says, “Sometimes we face resistance in Alberta and Canada because we already have other power sources, but this is a competitive alternative.”

And from Daniel Burt, P.Eng., of Suncor Energy: “I see geothermal energy as filling the same market needs as conventional nuclear fission reactors — low-emission power with minimal surface footprint — without any hazardous waste byproducts. The trick is finding the right rocks at the right temperature containing the right fluids. The surface portion is relatively easy and low-impact.”

CSG says development costs for geothermal energy will decline in the next 15 years to be competitive with coal-fired electricity production.

To read the article in the PEG, see page 66 ff. click here.

While on the subject of the earth’s core, geologists at the University of Illinois working with scientists in China have discovered that the Earth’s inner core is different to previous models. Using seismic reading technology, the researchers have found that the inner core has an inner core of its own that has surprising properties. The inner-inner core is about half the diameter of the whole inner core, and whereas the iron crystals of the out layer of the inner core are aligned north-south, the crystals in the inner-inner core point roughly east-west.

The researchers think their discovery could hold the key to how the planet has evolved.

Click here for an article in Phys.org