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European Shallow Geothermal Energy days 2019 in Brussels

Shaping the research agenda for ATES and BTES towards 2030

At the way home from our holiday in France, my wife dropped me off in Brussels. I attended the shallow geothermal energy days wearing a shirt which came out of my bag wrinkled after surviving at the bottom of my suitcase during two weeks camping. During these days, the European experts on ATES and BTES systems and EU policymakers gathered to talk about developments, existing challenges and possible solutions to address in future research and development.

Growth rates are double-digit, but at a small absolute number, EGEC and EHPA both gave an update on the application rate of ATES and BTES systems. They showed a coherent story of significant growth across Europe, but with the remarks that (a) the absolute number is still deficient compared to the fossil fuel systems like gas-fired boilers and (b) at low rates any increase quickly leads to relative significant growth rates. In total there are now about 2 million ground source heat pump systems, of which one million installed during the past ten years. The total installed capacity in Europe is 23GWth.

20% of heat pumps installed in NL are ground source, 80% air source. We are among the highest in Europe. (100% ground source in Hungary is an error in data, is also much lower).

Eva Hoos from the European commission then pointed out the main challenges for ATES and BTES, which will be reflected in the new energy and climate policy package for 2030. These challenges were then discussed during a plenary discussion. Essential goals for geothermal heat pumps are:

  • low installation costs
  • Delivers on saving
  • No soil, water and air pollution
  • Easy to deploy/purchase
  • legal issues have to be solved

The five main mission areas of H-Europe.

In the afternoon there were several contributions from across Europe. Most countries have projects on BTES systems. Contributions varied from site and result descriptions from existing systems to research and demo project results. The largest closed-loop systems have over 100km of borehole length. Presentation from Switzerland showcased systems in Zurich of over 5 MW, and with 90 and 86 km of borehole length for a residential area using waste heat from data centres and ETH Zurich campus respectively. I presented our work in high-density ATES areas and on behalf of Marco Pellegrini about the E-use –aq project that finished last year.

Future research on ATES and BTES in Europe

Wednesday morning, we discussed both the past and mainly the future strategic research agenda and roadmap for the development of ATES and BTES towards 2030 as an input for the Horizon Europe program.

Geothermal energy is part of the European Technology and Innovation Platform for Renewable Heating and Cooling (RHC-ETIP). Similar expert groups contribute to the RHC-ETIP for solar, biomass etc. In the past months, I helped to draft the geothermal strategic research agenda and roadmap (SRAR). During this meeting, the lead editor/moderator of this document, Javier Urchueguia from the University of Valencia, presented the main content of the SRAR. We do no longer discriminate between systems based on the depth, no more shallow/deep geothermal. For the ATES and BTES, we divided the SRAR into three different main topics:

  1.  Ground coupling technologies, in which we address research topics for wells and borehole technology, drilling, completion and design.
  2. System integration, in which we address research topics for building system and district heating network integration of ATES/BTES systems.
  3. Non-technical, in which we address awareness, legislation and societal issues.

In 2 presentations of the European Commission, the main goals for the SET plan and horizon Europe were presented. Horizon Europe goals all stand in the light of the SDG’s, 35% of the budget is reserved for the climate change challenge. With the proposed €100 billion (still under negotiation) the H-Europe is the 4th largest research funder in the world. Achieving scientific, societal and economic impact is essential for Horizon Europe projects. There are five main themes identified, ATES/BTES contributes to two of them: climate-neutral cities and climate change. No further details and divisions have yet been made in the H-Europe. The European Commission will use our input from the SRAR in shaping the working packages for H-Europe, which is planned in 2020.

During the discussion, an important issue that was brought up is the broad goals for electrification was opposed. Electric resistance heating is thermodynamically not the way to go. We need a clear vision and potential of how renewable heating and cooling is a better alternative for electrification. There were no comments on the research topics we presented in the draft version of the SRAR for ATES/BTES. Shortly after this meeting, the SRAR will go into a public review process after which we will finish the document in December de latest.