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Seis-ing up the subsurface

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Energy Global,

Nick Tranter, Head of Business Development, New Energies, STRYDE, discusses how new technologies can help aid the development of geothermal projects.

The opportunity of the renewables industry is one that is only growing as the energy market puts sustainability at the forefront of its ambitions on an international scale. With minimal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and air pollutants, the geothermal sector has shown to be heating up over the past few years, with the geothermal power market alone having a projected value of US$6.8 billion by 2026.

This sector, which harnesses the heat energy naturally found beneath our feet for both power generation and heating, has increased in significance over the past decade, with 2022 seeing the global geothermal power generation capacity reaching approximately 14.9 GW.1 Historically, countries like Germany have been making a significant commitment to the energy source for heating purposes, already operating 42 deep geothermal projects with another eight projects under construction or in the planning stages.2

The UK has also been developing its deep geothermal activity, with two headline projects ongoing in Cornwall (including the Eden Geothermal project), intended for the delivery of heat and power. Three other sites are also in use, providing water from geothermal springs and heat from shallower wells.3

Geothermal projects like these are key to the drive to net zero, opening the ability to rely on a more diverse energy mix while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a clean source of power and heat and an important contributor to the UK’s zero-carbon future, geothermal energy enables new avenues for a cleaner future. However, challenges exist to enable these projects as developers can often struggle to raise project funding, conform with state regulations, appease local stakeholders, and pinpoint viable geothermal production locations, due to a lack of reliable subsurface data.

Despite the current activity to bring geothermal more readily into the energy mix across Europe, there is space for much more development across this sector. According to Phillippe Dumas, the European Geothermal Energy Council (EGEC) lobby’s Secretary-General, geothermal energy is currently used in just 2 million home heating systems in the EU, out of a potential 100 million.4 This means that there is a vast opportunity for geothermal, for both heating and power to expand its reach across the EU region.

Heating up for growth

Seismic data is a key tool in locating geothermal sites, and is also used to de-risk drilling, with both 2D and 3D surveys being an established part of the exploration and development process, improving project success rates. However, many countries across Europe and in the UK have a distinct lack of seismic data, and that which has been acquired is restricted to focus on petroleum exploration, in areas with little overlap to geothermal needs.5

Due to the traditionally expensive equipment and activity required to gain knowledge of the subsurface in the run-up to drilling geothermal wells, the industry faces a challenge in developing new geothermal projects as operators are prevented from evaluating the subsurface potential due to the affordability of seismic data.

To access the seismic data that geothermal operators need, companies must adopt technologies that can deliver seismic insights whilst avoiding high costs and minimising the impact on the surrounding environments. This presents a difficult challenge to the industry, one which STRYDE aims to overcome with low-cost seismic data acquisition solutions.

Originally designed for the oil and gas industry, STRYDE’s technology and fast-track data processing services enable effective de-risking ahead of drilling operations, by providing operators with detailed images of the subsurface.

High-quality technology with low environmental impact

In a recent project in Europe, STRYDE’s technology was used to acquire a 3D seismic survey for geothermal exploration purposes. The survey covered 80 km2 of urban terrain, creating a high-resolution image of the underlying geology.

In a built-up area like the one encountered in this project, the small and inobtrusive nature of the technology, which is the world’s smallest to date, along with its ability to enable rapid field operations and minimised interruption of local urban life, is seen as a key enablement tool for future geothermal projects where geothermal energy will be used to heat and power urban communities.

This compares with the industry’s traditional and common use of cabled geophones to conduct land-seismic surveys, where the use of this technology is complex, expensive, and highly intrusive to the survey environments, requiring large crews and long project times. This has traditionally limited the ability of operators to acquire seismic data in these types of environments, resulting in not being able to afford to ac-quire seismic data, or having to compromise on the quality of the image acquired.

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For more news and technical articles from the global renewable industry, read the latest issue of Energy Global magazine.

Energy Global's Winter 2023 issue

The Winter 2023 issue of Energy Global hosts an array of technical articles weather analysis, geothermal solutions, energy storage technology, and more. This issue also features a regional report looking at the future of renewables in North America, and a report from Théodore Reed-Martin, Editorial Assistant, Energy Global, on how Iceland utilises its unique geology for renewable energy.

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