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Developing the UK's low enthalpy geothermal resources
The UK’s low enthalpy geothermal resources were assessed during the 1980s in response to the oil crisis. The geothermal potential was found distributed amongst deep sedimentary Mesozoic basins and buried radiothermal
granites. This survey revealed that the resource in place could theoretically meet the UK’s heat demand for 100 years.
The study also considered the potential for modest power generation. The UK’s only operational deep geothermal heat scheme was developed at Southampton as a direct response to this study by drilling a 2km production well into the Wessex Basin. This resource has a temperature of 72oC and supplies 1.7MW of geothermal heat to a range of consumers via a heat network.
Since the 1980s, efforts to ensure security of energy supply for the UK whilst reducing carbon emissions have renewed interest in the potential role of deep geothermal energy to contribute to future energy demands. Three research wells have recently been drilled by the BritGeothermal partnership into the Weardale Granite at (Eastgate, County Durham) and its associated structural features (Science Central, Tyne and Wear) and have provided information about temperature and permeability of strata at depths of between 500m and 2km. There is also interest from several local authorities including Durham, Cornwall, Cheshire East and Stoke in promoting the deep geothermal resources within their areas of governance.
Additional low enthalpy resources exist associated with the exploitation of fossil fuels. These were not covered in the 1980s study yet are generating new interest as potential geothermal energy resources. In the UK, over 2000 hydrocarbon wells were drilled onshore between 1902 and 2013. These and future wells could be retrofitted with heat exchangers and used to provide several 100kW of heat per well. Oilfields that are nearing end of life can have water cuts approaching 90%.The hot brines produced as a by-product of oil extraction can be used to produce electricity to offset power deficits for ageing fields offshore. Onshore oilfields located in the East Midlands and Dorset also have potential as a thermal resource and exceed that exploited at Southampton. There are also vast ultralow enthalpy geothermal resources associated with flooded abandoned mineworkings. Using these resources with heat pumps to boost their temperature, offer good potential because of their underlap with centres of population.
Charlotte Adams is a lecturer in the Department of Geography and research manager for the BritGeothermal Consortium. Her research interests include hydrogeology, hydrogeochemistry, geothermal energy and ground source heat and microgeneration. Charlotte gained a PhD from Newcastle University while researching the removal of ecotoxic metals from abandoned mine drainage and has had a long interest in geothermal energy, which began while working at Newcastle University on Coal Authority funded research that included temperature logging at several deep mineshafts in the UK. Charlotte has both industrial and academic experience having joined industry on secondment to investigate the potential of abandoned mine workings for exploitation by ground source heat pumps and worked subsequently for several years in the renewable energy industry before joining Durham University in 2009.
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