Glasgow COP26 site could be used to heat up to 6,500 homes

The site which hosted the COP26 climate conference has been identified as suitable for an “exciting” sustainable energy project that could heat up to 6,500 homes.
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A study of the geology under the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) found it could support a deep geothermal heat recovery system.

It has been estimated that up to 52 gigawatt-hours of power and 76 gigawatts of heat every year might be produced — the equivalent of the annual energy captured by solar panels from an area the size of 190 football pitches.

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Exploratory drilling, up to 6km deep, to get a more detailed understanding of the subsurface could require £25m, while the cost of the whole scheme is estimated to be between £80m and £120m. Funding has yet to be identified.

Cllr Angus Millar, the city’s climate and Green Deal convener, said there is still “considerable work” needed before “we are drawing energy from deep below the city” but the “path before us is now much clearer”.

He added the study highlights “exciting possibilities for sustainable energy in Glasgow”.

Geothermal heat recovery involves drilling deep wells to capture the natural heat held in the earth’s subsurface, which is then used to drive turbines or provide energy for a district heating system.

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Cllr Millar said: “The crucial benefit of using geothermal heat recovery is that it ensures a constant supply of energy, which gives residents a source of energy they can rely upon.

“But using a geothermal source could also completely decarbonise the energy supply of the homes connected to this system.

“How we heat and power our homes in the face of the climate crisis is one of the biggest challenges of our times. The potential found in a possible geothermal heat recovery system in Glasgow shows we can move away from a reliance on fossil fuels for domestic energy.”

The SEC, with funding support from the council, appointed drilling experts Halliburton to carry out the study, which examined available information on Clydeside geology.

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It found that Glasgow “does not have the required subsurface conditions to operate a conventional geothermal system”. An enhanced system would be “needed for access to deeper and hotter formations to create ‘unconventional’ geothermal reservoirs through stimulation of natural fractures”.

A council report, based on information provided by Halliburton, stated: “This is not the same process as fracking as the natural fractures would be stimulated through some water pressure, where fracking injects much larger volumes of pressure to create new fractures to release fossil fuels.”

It added to generate power “significant volumes of a working fluid are transferred between an injection well and a production well”.

“The injector well sends the working fluid, capable of extracting heat from the hot rock as it travels from the injection point to the extraction point, where it is transported to the surface and into a heat exchanger or power generating turbine.”

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A ‘heat only’ scenario was also considered which is an “alternative option should initial drilling indicate that an enhanced geothermal system isn’t viable”. That would “bring usable heat for a district heating system but not sufficient heat to generate power”.

Results from any exploratory work would be used to fully consider options around geothermal energy on the site, including how the system would be owned, operated and maintained.

The report concluded drilling a geothermal well “to a depth of 4 to 6km” is “technically feasible, although challenging, and likely to incur significant cost due to the need for drilling through hot, dry rock at the deeper depths”.

Council officials will now work with the SEC to cost the next steps, review funding options and consider approaches to investors. It is estimated that creating wells and building associated facilities could cost between £80m and £120m in total.

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“This work shows the potential for geothermal in Glasgow to provide significant volumes of renewable power and heat and contribute to our target of being a net zero carbon city,” the report added. “However, it is not without risk and the preliminary drilling is required to quantify that risk.”

The drilling is “in itself a risk” and needs to “be managed” given it “could result in a heat only option, or worst case, no viable option”.

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