Geothermal could be ‘key’ to unlock new energy sources, says NI report

21 Jun 2022

From left: QUB School of Management’s Prof Mark Palmer, QUB vice-chancellor Prof Ian Greer; QUB School of Natural and Built Environment’s Dr Joseph Ireland, economy minister Gordon Lyons, CausewayGT CEO Niall McCormack and Geological Survey of Northern Ireland director Marie Cowan. Image: Queen's University Belfast

QUB researchers said geothermal energy is in the ‘early development niche phase’ and suggested ways to put ‘market scaffolding’ in place to develop the industry.

Geothermal energy could be the “invisible key” to unlock new energy sources and help Northern Ireland meet its net-zero emissions goals, according to a new report by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).

The report said that geothermal energy could be key in decarbonising Northern Ireland’s heat sector, as it is a clean and naturally occurring source of energy. It added that this energy can be used for both heating and cooling.

Geothermal energy involves harnessing heat energy from within the Earth.

The report noted that geothermal energy source ‘flows’ can be enabled with ground source heat pumps, or through direct use systems for both domestic and business users. For larger network deployments, the geothermal heat source can be configured and integrated with existing mechanical, electrical and plumbing options.

The report also said that this energy sector is in an “early development niche phase” in Northern Ireland. As a result, it highlighted confidence-building actions to put the “market scaffolding” in place while showcasing flagship geothermal projects.

“There is a real positive opportunity for portfolio-driven energy market-making here,” said Prof Mark Palmer of QUB’s Management School.

“Despite over 40 years of geological evidence gathering, which confirms that Northern Ireland has favourable geological conditions for geothermal activity, the findings of our report show an absence of awareness and visibility of the geothermal project activity on the ground.”

The report invited the geothermal community to help build a niche strategy and to engage in “upstream nudging activity as well as downstream showcasing of heat decarbonisation”.

The report, called Net Zero Pathways: Building the Geothermal Energy Sector in Northern Ireland, was prepared for the Department for the Economy and the Geothermal Advisory Committee. It was launched as part of Northern Ireland’s Geothermal Energy Week.

Northern Ireland’s economy minister Gordon Lyons described geothermal energy as the “Cinderella” of renewable technologies and said this energy source could tie into a larger energy strategy for the region.

“We are already leading in the technology around wind, and we will reinforce this with other technologies such as green hydrogen – so not only will we be self-sufficient, but we will be able to export these zero-carbon technologies, created and manufactured locally,” Lyons added.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic