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Geothermal Power Stations: Levelling Up the UK

A study commissioned by the Government and conducted by the University of Durham has revealed that many of Britain’s poorest towns are located in areas with significant potential for renewable energy. 

The country is estimated to have enough geothermal energy reserves underground to heat every home for a century. By taking advantage of this resource, the UK could reduce its reliance on fossil fuel imports and solely depend on the North Sea for gas supplies.

What is geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy harnessing involves drilling boreholes to depths of approximately two to three miles, circulating cold water at low pressures through the hot rocks beneath the Earth’s surface, and returning the warmed water to the surface. In many areas of Britain, there is hot water flowing through rocks at this underground level which can be used to provide heating for homes and businesses or generate electricity. By 2050, more than ⅕ homes could get their heating and hot water from geothermal energy.

This term is traditionally associated with countries such as Iceland, yet, in recent decades, several other European countries have introduced these technologies for green heating purposes –  While Iceland benefits from its unique geology, resulting in abundant deep geothermal energy, Paris already relies on geothermal heating for over 250,000 homes, and the German government has committed €1bn (£860m) for the development of 100 geothermal projects by 2035. 

The UK has already embarked on some geothermal energy initiatives, such as the project in Seaham, County Durham, which uses water from mineshafts to heat new homes, and the Eden project in Cornwall, where geothermal energy warms various facilities. However, compared to other European countries, the UK has been slower in supporting nascent deep geothermal industries due to limited government intervention.

Levelling up the UK

The new research suggests that underground geothermal plants could play a crucial role in levelling up the UK. This is based on data which reveals that areas targeted for investment as part of the Government’s levelling up agenda, are three times more likely to possess untapped geothermal energy resources. 

Some of the identified areas include Redcar and Cleveland, Middlesbrough, East Lindsey, Hartlepool, Northumberland, and Bassetlaw, which rank among the top 10 in the government’s index for areas requiring levelling up. Additionally, locations like Newcastle upon Tyne, North East Derbyshire, the East Riding of Yorkshire, and Nottingham are also suitable for geothermal energy production.

Kieran Mullan MP, who compiled the report, expressed surprise at the significant overlap between areas in need of investment and optimal geothermal sites, suggesting that it could encourage the government to further support renewable energy technologies. Geothermal energy offers the advantage of providing constant baseload power, unlike wind or solar energy. Furthermore, the UK’s expertise in drilling from the North Sea could contribute to advancements in this field.

The report also highlights previous research indicating that building a network of plants could contribute 35,000 jobs to the economy by 2050.

Responses

Rishi Sunak expressed that the report would assist the government in determining the potential role of deep geothermal energy in the UK economy. He said “We have made rapid progress on switching to homegrown renewable electricity and have made energy security a key priority. Success is going to depend on pulling all the levers at our disposal”. Sunak also emphasized the need to utilize all available tools to achieve success in transitioning to renewable energy and ensuring energy security.

Similarly, Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said “Every renewable has its strengths and weaknesses, and this report highlights how deep geothermal is working well in Europe and how it can potentially contribute in the UK.”

The technology also has the backing of environmental groups including Greenpeace.

Final thought 

Based on the research, increasing the installation of geothermal energy plants in the UK would have a positive impacts on the energy sector, the environment and the economy, on a national scale but also in terms of levelling up areas which are particularly deprived.

Curia’s Levelling Up Commission

Curia is holding the Levelling Up Commission this year, seeking to implement the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper and find pragmatic solutions to regional disparities across the UK.

Through roundtable meetings with MPs and senior leaders of local and regional government from across the UK, quantitative data analysis and regional sprints, the Commission intends to set out a series of recommendations to consider how regional inequalities can be reduced from the perspective of public services in four key areas:

  • Health and Social Care
  • Housing and Homelessness
  • Education, Skills and Training
  • Crime, Justice and Rehabilitation

To hear thought leaders discuss levelling up in health and social care, signup to the Commission first inquiry session here.

If you are interested in working with the Levelling Up Commission, please reach out to our policy lead Shivani Sen at shivani.sen@chamberuk.com

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