England will turn coal mines into geothermal power stations
The UK is implementing a plan to turn abandoned coal mines into geothermal power stations. Abandoned and submerged coal mines are particularly numerous in the north of England, the centre of Britain’s industrial revolution.
The South Tyneside Council in the north-east of England approved plans to harness geothermal energy at the abandoned Hebburn mine. Its development was abandoned in 1932. The pilot project will involve drilling two boreholes to transport water from the abandoned mine.
Drilling and viability testing is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2021. Dunelm Geotechnical and Environmental Ltd hopes to extract water through the wells from a depth of 300-400 metres. A special heat pump will be used to extract heat from the water.
A power plant at the extraction site will distribute energy to heat local buildings. For example, residential high-rise buildings. The plan is to use solar panels and a combined heat and power plant to generate electricity.
In 2015, the UK government pledged to completely stop coal mining within ten years. For a country that pioneered global coal production and in 2013 was still generating enough “coal” power to power 3 million homes, this is a notable shift in the government’s energy strategy.
“Coal” cities in the UK have been hit hard by the closure of hundreds of mines since the 1980s. This has led to a sharp rise in unemployment in local communities. New renewable energy projects like the one above can rejuvenate such cities. They encourage the development of alternative energy sources. And bring much-needed jobs back to the north of England.
The Hebburn mine is just one of many that could give a boost to geothermal energy production in the country. Jeremy Crooks, head of innovation at the Coal Authority, believes that converting existing coal mines into geothermal power stations is “an asset of strategic importance to the UK”.
Geothermal power plants have a great future
In 2020, the Coal Authority had about 30 different projects aiming to generate about 2.2GWh of geothermal energy annually from abandoned mines. Assuming the Hebburn mine project goes ahead as planned, it is likely that several more conversion projects will be implemented in the UK.
An additional saving on conversion projects comes from the UK’s abandonment policy. It requires mine operators to have documentation that accurately identifies the areas in which they have mined. Based on this information, it is easier to determine the area and heat output of abandoned mines. This will reduce the risks of developing this geothermal project.
A similar project received public approval last year after researchers from the University of Strathclyde secured funding for the early development of abandoned mines in Scotland as part of their HotScot project. The group believes developing geothermal energy from mine waters across Scotland could generate an economic boost of around £303m ($424m) and create 9,800 jobs. If the pilot project is successful, it could pave the way for abandoned coal mines around the world to be converted into geothermal power plants.