Geothermal potential in northern, western Europe flagged as lawmakers back plan

Geothermal potential in northern, western Europe flagged as lawmakers back plan

Geologic basins in the Netherlands, western Germany and Belgium are ripe for exploitation as geothermal sources of energy, a scientific expert told Euronews as MEPs overwhelmingly supported a resolution — 531 in favour, two against — in a plenary session today (18 January) calling on the EU to speed efforts for its use.

Several EU countries are producing heat from geothermal energy while others have announced plans to assess the potential of this renewable source.

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Geothermal energy derives from heat generated within the Earth’s crust and is mainly used for electricity production, district heating and industrial processes. A European Commission renewables strategy tabled in May 2022 called for a tripling of the volume of total EU energy demand covered by geothermal by 2030.

Addressing MEPs in plenary this week Commissioner Didier Rynders acknowledged the “so far limited role” of geothermal in the EU energy mix, but noted its “potential to grow”, voicing the EU executive’s support for member states and industry to boost the deployment of geothermal through the net-zero industry act.

Geothermal energy represented 0.5% of the global renewable electricity market in 2022, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). In the EU, however, it generated a mere 0.2% of electricity.

Martin Arndt, project coordinator of an EU-funded project facilitating the use of geothermal energy, told Euronews the continent boasts significant potential for harnessing geothermal energy in geologic basins beneath Paris, the Munich Molasse, North Germany and the Upper Rhine Graben regions, all of which have seen much exploration.

“It [geothermal energy] is particularly interesting for countries with a high dependency on imports in the energy sector,” Arndt said.

Another region with great potential according to Arndt is northwest Europe including northern France, Belgium, western Germany, the Netherlands and the British Isles — which has been investigated by Arndt and his team.

Last week the Dutch region of North Brabant signed an action plan in partnership with the municipality of Helmond and agency Energie Beheer Nederland to propel geothermal energy signalling the Netherlands’ interest in geothermal as a “sustainable heat source for the future”.

But the EU frontrunner on geothermal is Italy, IRENA data reveals, accounting for most of the bloc’s electricity produced from heat extracted from the Earth’s crust in 2021. Other EU countries such as Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary and Portugal are also making strides in developing geothermal resources.

In Aarhus, 36 thousand households – 20% of all homes – will soon be powered with geothermal, MEP Niels Fuglsang (Denmark/S&D) told the plenary session in Strasbourg, citing it as “an excellent example of what we need more of”. His compatriot MEP Pernille Weiss (Denmark/EPP) called on the EU executive to come up with “concrete actions soon” to unveil the full potential of this energy source.

Commenting the Parliament’s vote, Philippe Dumas, secretary general of the European Geothermal Energy Council, said lawmakers put “geothermal energy firmly on the EU policy radar”, noting the EU executive “can’t ignore such a powerful endorsement”.

While geothermal energy could be applied everywhere in Europe, Arndt said its feasibility depends on the base geology and the technologies available to extract the heat. He explained that the best potential lies where the demand at the surface can be offset by the heat supply of a reservoir in the subsurface.

In order to access the reservoir, however, an exploration borehole must be drilled, a crucial step in the process, backed by strong geological knowledge of the subsurface and seismic surveys. The drilling process often grates with local communities and raises environmental concerns, said Arndt.

“During the production phase, seismic [activity] could cause concern among the population, so open and citizen-oriented communication is necessary,” said Arndt.

Another risk is the uncertainty of the exploration borehole’s success, which could be “unproductive or not produce enough heat”, potentially compromising the entire project and associated investments. The full exploitation of geothermal also faces headwinds with approval procedures, bureaucracy and a shortage of skilled workers, he said.

Lawmaker Marc Botenga (Belgium/The Left) told the parliament that while he agreed with the development of geothermal he took issue with the direction taken in the compromise text agreed by the commission and the parliament’s team led by MEP rapporteur Zdzisław Krasnodębski (Poland/ECR).

Botenga, who abstained at the December vote on the draft report at the parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee and in plenary today, rejected the classical industry approach centred on public-private partnerships, arguing it risks enabling “potentially detrimental projects”. He preferred to see public development and monitoring of geothermy.

“This would also guarantee a public and democratic control over the prices of heating and electricity generated by geothermal energy,” he said.


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