Central-Eastern European countries have exceptional geothermal resources, which are either unexploited due to a lack of technological know-how, or their utilisation is being conducted in an unsustainable manner. To address this technological shortfall, the Geothermal Communities (GEOCOM) project was launched in 2010 with the aim of demonstrating best available technologies in the use of geothermal energy combined with innovative energy-efficiency measures and to increase the visibility of direct heat applications of geothermal energy throughout Europe.
GEOCOM is a project of the CONCERTO initiative, co-funded by the European Commission as part of its Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The project, with a total budget of EUR 11.5 million of which the EU is contributing over EUR 3.5 million, showcases a wide array of research and demonstration components to ensure not only first-hand experience for the communities involved, but also to provide the international scientific community with valuable results related to currently-pressing geothermal issues, such as reinjection of heat-depleted brines into sedimentary reservoirs and trans-boundary utilisation of geothermal aquifers.
The main objective of the project, which initially ran until the end of 2014 but has been extended until December 2015, is to implement pilot-scale demonstration of geothermal energy utilisation at three demo-sites in Morahalom (Hungary), Galanta (Slovakia) and Montieri (Italy). The demonstration activities include the development of a geothermal district heating system, the integration of geothermal heating with other renewable energy sources (RES) and the execution of energy efficiency measures such as complementary retrofitting actions on selected buildings. The broad geographical coverage of the sites enables the project to implement different technologies based on local needs while at the same time increasing the replication potential of the project’s deliverables. One of the key elements of the project is the efficient dissemination of information and training activities, aimed both at raising public awareness about RES use and at helping to transfer the project’s technology and approach to other communities in the region and beyond. All the demonstration actions of the project are supported by socio-economic research, which runs in parallel, in order to monitor public acceptance of these interventions and public opinion about geothermal energy in general.
“By achieving these key demonstration and scientific objectives GEOCOM will contribute towards de-carbonising the energy system in a sustainable way, using cost-effective and resource-efficient technology solutions that are fully in line with the objectives of the Strategic Energy Technology Plan and of related energy legislation and energy policies designed to deliver the 2020 targets,” GEOCOM Coordinator István Pári told SETIS.
The project’s three demonstration sites have their own distinct geological features and socio-economic conditions. A feature of the thermal waters in the Morahalom region (and, more broadly, in the south of Hungary) is their rather high inherent dissolved gas content (average 520 l/m3 with 87% CH4). In other words, for every 2 m3 of thermal water produced there is an average of 1 m3 of methane which was previously released to the atmosphere. As part of the GEOCOM project, two small-scale combined heat and power (CHP) engines were installed at each of the production well sites to utilise the separated gas content of the produced fluid, which amounts to roughly 90 m3 CH4/year.
At the Hungarian site, monitoring has supported the initial idea that the achieved savings would become more and more significant as the project progresses and the individual investment components begin to complement each other. For example, three buildings were connected to the geothermal cascade system in 2010, which immediately resulted in a reduction in the natural gas use projected for the year. However, the major breakthrough came in 2011, when the total amount of natural gas used for heating at the three locations fell by almost 90%. Additional savings were achieved by retrofitting the buildings: by improving the thermal qualities of the building envelope the amount of gas needed fell even further - to only 1.1% of the initial value from 5 years earlier.
Meanwhile, near the Slovakian site in Galanta, local real-estate development initiatives called for a sustainable and green energy supply. This demand resulted in the partial refurbishment and extension of a 30+ year-old district heating system within the framework of the project. The new buildings are supplied with geothermal district heating and year-round domestic hot water, offsetting approximately 237,000 m3 natural gas consumption and 440t CO2 emissions annually. The Galanta site, which also focused on improving the energy efficiency of residential estates using geothermal heat, saw its annual heat demand fall by 40%. Furthermore, a total of five new estates were connected to the city’s existing geothermal heating network in 2012, to take advantage of the surplus heat resulting from the retrofitting efforts.
The project activities at the Italian site in Montieri involve the whole community and aim at achieving three distinct outcomes. First of all, the project involves building a brand new and highly-efficient district heating system (6.26MW) to utilize high-enthalpy geothermal steam from the site’s Montieri-4 well. To ensure that the maximum benefit is received from this heat, the project will also see a number of selected public buildings being retrofitted. Finally, an 8.5 kW solar PV system is being deployed as part of an integrated RES system.
The GEOCOM project also integrates a number of cities as project partners (from Serbia, Romania, Poland and FYROM). These cities either have existing geothermal systems that require technological upgrades, or they would like to implement new systems from scratch with the help of the project partners. The replication potential of the GEOCOM actions is clear, and can be quantified by looking at the number of small-scale private initiatives launched in the neighbourhood of the project sites over the past four years. These initiatives have been driven by building owners wishing to take advantage of the results yielded by the project and to improve the energy efficiency of similar buildings which did not participate in GEOCOM. Energy savings generated by these additional side-projects will release supply on the side of the heating provider, encouraging it to sign up more consumers of renewable energy.
Even though the GEOCOM project is now set to run for another year, the major investment components have already been carried out and are in place. The project’s unique approach, focusing on the direct heat applications of geothermal resources, demonstrates that even low-medium enthalpy geothermal systems, which are much more abundant than their high-temperature counterparts, can be harnessed effectively using state-of-the-art technology and adequate planning. It is expected that the local actions in each of the participating countries will be adopted by neighbouring communities in the future. The goal of the project is to disseminate the knowledge and technological solutions proven at the demonstration sites among a target group of municipalities and decision-makers with the ultimate aim of reinforcing direct geothermal heat applications and systems throughout Europe.
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