Geothermal district heating involves the use of geothermal energy to provide heating to residential, commercial and industrial buildings through a heat distribution network. The first regions in Europe to install geothermal district heating systems were those with the best hydrothermal potential. However, technological advancements and the development of new systems have resulted in an ever increasing number of regions developing geothermal technology for heating and cooling.
There are currently around 250 geothermal district heating plants (including cogeneration systems) in Europe, with a total installed capacity of some 4.5 GWth. The plants in operation in 2012-13 produced approximately 13 terawatt-hours thermal per year (TWh th/y) for heating. Of the 250-plant total, 162 geothermal DH plants, with a total installed capacity of 1.1 GWth, are located in the EU-28. These plants produced 4256 GWh of thermal power in 2012 (GeoDH). In the broader European context, the main players are Iceland, which accounts for about 50% of the total installed capacity (2.2 GWth), followed by Turkey with about 20% (0.8 GWth) (JRC/EGEC 2013a). The 2014 Geothermal Energy Status Report published by the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s in-house science service, found geothermal district heating to be the geothermal sector with the most dynamic development. As a consequence, installed capacity is expected to grow - particularly in Germany, France, and Hungary. Meanwhile, Hungary and Italy have seen some major new capacity additions. A district heating plant was opened in Miskolc, Hungary in 2013 which may reach a capacity of 60 to 70 MWth; while in Italy the 6 MWth Monteverdi Marittimo district heating plant was inaugurated in the same year (JRC 2015/ REN21 2014)2.
While these countries are the front-runners it should be stressed that, in light of technological advancements in the sector, geothermal DH systems can be installed in all European countries. In confirmation of this, there have been new entrants to the geothermal DH market recently, with capacity installed in the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, and nearly all countries in Europe are expected to have geothermal DH systems by 2020. One of the key findings of the JRC’s Geothermal Energy Status Report was that geothermal direct use and ground source heat pumps (GSHP) for heating and cooling are best integrated into regional systems, in order to reduce costs and increase security of supply. The report also stressed that, if geothermal energy is to realise its potential to reduce CO2 emissions in the heating and cooling sector, then the construction industry will need to become more aware of the flexibility that this technology offers.
In addition to flexibility, the other main benefits offered by geothermal heating and cooling are its provision of local baseload renewable energy, the diversification of the energy mix, and the protection it offers against volatile fossil fuels prices. These benefits were promoted by the GeoDH project, which ran from the start of April 2012 to the end of September 2014. With an overall budget of EUR 1.015 million, of which EUR 760,920 was provided by the European Union under the Intelligent Energy Europe programme, the project’s goal was to encourage the wider uptake of geothermal energy in Europe. The overarching aim of the project was to accelerate the penetration of geothermal district heating in European Member States. With this in mind, GeoDH specifically aimed to remove regulatory and financial barriers to the uptake of geothermal technologies and simplify procedures for operators and policy makers. With respect to financial barriers, a specific goal of the project was to develop innovative financial models for geothermal DH to help overcome constraints hampering the funding of capital-intensive geothermal projects. Finally, with a view to addressing skills shortages in the sector, the project aimed to train technicians and decision-makers at regional and local authorities in order to provide the technical background necessary to approve and support projects.
The GeoDH consortium worked with countries with juvenile, transitional and mature markets and covered 14 countries in total, with the eventual aim that the project’s activities would be replicated in all EU Member States. Policy and decision makers at national and local levels were the main focus of the activities, aimed at promoting a legislative and regulatory framework that was fit-for-purpose, and simplifying procedures at local level. The project also targeted banks, potential investors and other market players in an effort to stimulate investment in the sector. An effort was made to involve a second group of stakeholders - those who stand to benefit from better market conditions and who are interested in the tools provided by the project. These include national and local suppliers, designers and installers of district heating and cooling systems; district heating operators and DH associations; owners and tenants of large buildings; and educational and training institutions. These will also be active during the dissemination phase in order to reach as many stakeholders as possible across the EU.
GeoDH has resulted in increased awareness about the potential applications and benefits of DH&C with geothermal energy, with a set of recommendations for removing barriers and improving regulatory frameworks. The project has also fostered a better understanding of the related technologies, costs and financing and has facilitated the transfer of best practices to national and local authorities. One tool that aided this effort is a database of some of the geothermal district heating projects in Europe, which allows other potential users to understand how these systems work in practice. By providing solutions for developing geothermal DH in the EU, the GeoDH project has assisted Member States in implementing and completing their NREAPs on deep geothermal for heating and cooling.
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