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The #earth as an inexhaustible clean energy source
Energy Energy Geothermics

Europe can score with geothermal energy, says geologist Jon Limberger. Recently he got awarded a PhD in Utrecht (the Netherlands) for a study on this subject. Good news.

Can we exchange gas for geothermal energy?

The wind, you feel when you have to struggle against it on the bike. The sun glows on the skin in the summer. Logically, therefore, windmills and solar panels appear all over the world. The forces of nature report themselves, as an inexhaustible clean source of energy. They replace dirty coal, oil and natural gas.

"What fascinates me," says geologist Jon Limberger (31), "is that there is still another great renewable energy source." It's under our feet, miles in the bottom. Heat, stored in water reservoirs. Even if companies would only pump a fraction of it up, the PhD student discovered that this would provide enough energy for the entire world. In this the soil does not differ much from wind and sunshine.

The heat drill goes into the ground at more and more locations. But geothermal energy is still in its infancy.

"The pinch is in the actual winning of the energy," says Limberger. How this can be done with geothermal heat, also known as geothermal energy, he describes in the study with which he is currently awarded a PhD at the University of Utrecht (the Netherlands). The deeper the heat is hidden, the higher the costs.
The best opportunities are there in countries with active, preferably volcanic soil.
The Geysirs of the Haukadalur Geothermal Area (Geysir Strokkur) - Island/ Iceland
The Geysirs of the Haukadalur Geothermal Area (Geysir Strokkur) - Island/ Iceland

Iceland therefore counts as the Mecca of geothermal energy. Nearly all households are already warming themselves with soil energy, says Limberger, who made a study trip with knowledge institute TNO (Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research). The Italian volcano region of Tuscany also belongs to the top scouts with geothermics. "Turkey is the rising star with geothermal energy," says Limberger. Just like the border area between France and Germany, because there are fault lines that are favorable for soil energy.
Geothermal area Toscana
Geothermal area Toscana (Italy)

The PhD research of Limberger contains nice prospects for the Netherlands. Based on his calculations, the geologist estimates that the Netherlands is ideally suited for geothermal energy. "We are in a favorable delta." There seems to be heat in the soil, about 100 degrees Celsius at three kilometers depth. Also important: the Netherlands is densely populated. The costs of transporting geothermal energy to homes, horticultural greenhouses and offices are therefore relatively low.
Geothermal area Pamukkale with people, water
Geothermal area Pamukkale (Turkey)

There are already heat networks in various places in the Netherlands. They are still getting heat from polluting factories. Geothermal energy can replace this. The Netherlands also benefits from all previous drilling for natural gas. "There is extraordinary knowledge of the subsurface," says Limberger. Other European countries have less soil information, or only strict secrecy. Dutch companies can easily request it. The first geothermal heat projects are already in the Netherlands. Furthermore, 48 companies now have permission to search for heat. They have an official search license for that. It always remains to be seen whether there really is a source of heat where you expect.

Accidentally oil

The government also provides a guarantee for mis-drilling. "A good thing," says Limberger. According to him, teething problems occur with every new technique. A bankruptcy, as happened with the pioneering compagny ‘Aardwarmte’ Den Haag, is, according to Limberger, no reason to lose faith in geothermal energy. The costs must be reduced.
That will happen, predicts the PhD student, through experience and better technology. Geothermal energy is still expensive in Europe, but in 2030 and 2050 it looks bright.

It was scaring, but not baffling that oil and gas were coming up at the very first drillings. Technically speaking, a heat drilling appears to be a gas drilling. The earthquake-ridden Groningen wants geothermal energy instead of natural gas.

24 Hours a day

PhD student Limberger thinks that geothermal energy can be a wonderful addition to clean energy from solar panels and wind turbines. The sun only shines during the day, especially in the summer. The wind does not always blow. "That is the nice thing about geothermal heat: you can use it 24 hours a day." Bottom water where the heat has been extracted goes back into the soil, where it can warm up again.
Graphic geothermal power plant
Geothermal power plant graphic

Those who drill deeper than four kilometers officially do 'ultra-deep geothermal energy'. That is more expensive than a normal bore, which also costs a few million euros. The yield is higher. The rule of thumb for Dutch soil is: with every kilometer the temperature rises by 30 degrees Celsius. Ultradiep is the heat source about 130 to 250 degrees Celsius. That is so hot that you can do more with it than just heat a greenhouse or house. "You can also make electricity from ultra-deep heat," says Limberger. The heat can make a generator run, which produces power.

It is therefore conceivable that clean electricity from the socket will not only come from the wind or the sun in the future, but deep from the bottom. Technically it is possible, says the geologist. And maybe it does not take a long time. It seems to Limberger something, to use such a current at home.

Now it becomes even more technical, but perhaps even more interesting. What is also possible is to convert the energy the other way around. So: from electricity from the energy grid to heat. Then you can convert wind and solar energy into heat. "So you can keep it in the groundwater and pump it up if necessary," says Limberger. There is still a lot of energy loss.

There are more technical hooks and eyes that might be solved. The energy sector would jump a hole in the air. Green electricity is still difficult to store. In the summer, the Netherlands produces the most solar power, while the demand for energy in the winter is high. Companies build large batteries to store energy. But, says the PhD student, perhaps the very best, natural buffer vessel for energy is now under our feet.

By: Frank Strave, Green