Chances of the use of geothermal energy in urban areas

15.11.2012 | Brüssel: Today in Brussels a workshop was held on the future role of geothermal energy in Europe's heat supply, initiated by the European Commission. The event "Future Utilization of Geothermal Energy in Urban Areas" concerning geothermal power and heat production in urban areas also featured the European Commissioner Günther H. Oettinger as a speaker. It was organized by two member centres of the Helmholtz Association, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences.


"Dense urban areas are focal points of energy consumption. In Germany alone, heat supply accounts for more than 60 percent of energy consumption. The vast majority of which comes from fossil fuels. The geothermal potential of the depth covers a multiplicity of this requirement," said Prof. Dr. Jürgen Mlynek, President of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. "For example, more than 98 percent of the heat supply of the federal capital is based on fossil fuels. Geothermal energy from deep sources can relieve this. The Helmholtz Association has launched an extensive research program on deep geothermy, where renowned experts of the Helmholtz centres in Potsdam and Karlsruhe, supported by the Helmholtz Centre in Leipzig (UFZ), are developing solutions for the usability of geothermal resources", says Mlynek.


In fact, geothermal energy is an option of renewable energy with enormous potential: The IPCC Report 2011 points out that the top five kilometers of Europe's crust alone contain enough energy to supply Europe with about 4000 TWh and 2000 TWh of heat per year, which is about the total annual consumption of the European population. Since geothermy is base-loadable, and therefore does not depend on weather fluctuations, it would be sufficient to use five percent of this potential to stabilize a power grid supplied by wind and solar energy. In Europe, numerous geothermal power plants are installed or currently in the planning stage, which can provide 86.1 TWh of heat and 14 TWh of electricity per year from geothermy. Already today, billions of liters of fuel oil are being saved this way. Especially in urban areas, fossil-fueled heating can be converted by geothermal energy into a safe heat supply with low CO2 emission. "The North East German sedimentary basin has great potential for the use of geothermal features as base-load power source. Initial studies on the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin indicate two horizons in the subsurface, whose heat potential could meet the demand of Berlin for more than a hundred years, "says Professor Reinhard Huettl, Scientific Executive Director of the German Research Centre for Geosciences.


The Helmholtz geothermal research is consistent with the "Joint Programme for Geothermal Energy" of the European Energy Research Alliance EERA. Here, 25 European research institutes from eleven countries are collaborating under the auspices of the GFZ to develop cost-effective technologies for the sustainable use and development of geothermal energy. In the short term the program aims at an increase in geothermal electricity generated from conventional geothermal power plants between two and ten gigawatts. Although volcanic areas such as Iceland are particularly suited for this, so-called "enhanced geothermal systems" (EGS) can also be used in areas with less thermal energy. These systems are being researched in international cooperation at KIT and GFZ to complement either the heat or electricity supply in the base load range, independent of location and even in urban areas. This allows the use of fossil fuels in urban areas to be reduced sustainably.