Satellite now mapping geothermal energy ‘hotspots’ for future expansion

16 Apr 2015

An illustration of the GOCE satellite which contributed to the IRENA tool. Image via ESA/AOES Medialab

Geothermal energy as a renewable energy resource has gotten a significant boost thanks to a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite that is now mapping where the biggest ‘hotspots’ are on the planet.

The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) is now being operated by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), with the help of the ESA, to build an online mapping tool that uses the GOCE’s ability to monitor gravitational fields as a means of locating where has the potential for untapped resources.

According to the ESA, this far surpasses the GOCE’s original mission objectives and allows IRENA to monitor areas that have been, until now, considered very remote, which would make any attempt at prospecting both expensive and time-consuming.

With its highly-advanced array of equipment, the GOCE is capable of finding geothermal reservoirs, including areas with thin crusts, subduction zones and young magmatic activity.


A Bouguer map anomaly which distinguishes thick from thin crust by more negative and positive values ESA/IRENA

The online map released by IRENA highlights two gravitational anomalies from within the Earth: ‘Bouger’ and ‘free air’, the latter of which highlights gravitational structures, while the Bouger map combines GOCE data with information of global topography that shows differences in crustal thickness.

When combined, they depict characteristics unique to geothermal reservoirs.

“These maps can help make a strong business case for geothermal development where none existed before,” said Henning Wuester, director of IRENA’s Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre on the release of the tool.

“In doing so, the tool provides a shortcut for lengthy and costly explorations and unlocks the potential of geothermal energy as a reliable and clean contribution to the world’s energy mix.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic