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B.C. should explore ‘untapped potential’ of geothermal power: SFU experts

March 25, 2021
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Simon Fraser University’s Clean Energy Research Group (CERG) says B.C. could do more to support the development geothermal resources as a source of renewable energy.

CERG researchers calculated the estimated future energy demand and determined that the Site C dam project would not be adequate. In a new working paper, the group notes that B.C. sits on the Pacific Rim Ring of Fire, which means that BC and Alberta have abundant geothermal resources that could fulfill future energy demand.

SFU political science professor and CERG lead Andy Hira says the federal and provincial governments have yet to seriously invest in exploring and mapping out geothermal, compared to more advanced jurisdictions like California. 

Hira, who co-authored the paper with SFU research associate Nastaran Arianpoo, a mining engineer and geothermal specialist, also notes that there is a lack of regulatory frameworks for geothermal energy development in several provincial and territorial jurisdictions. This creates an uncertain environment for investors and developers to advance projects beyond the exploration phase.

“Without that investment and a more supportive regulatory environment, the private sector won’t take the risks to develop geothermal,” says Hira. “The government could incentivize geothermal resource exploration in B.C. and Canada through additional grants and loans for research and development, training, surveying, mapping and drilling.”

They also suggest lifting B.C. Hydro’s moratorium on new power purchase agreements (PPAs) for renewable geothermal projects.

The benefits of geothermal power

Geothermal does not suffer from intermittency or the challenges from weather and seasonality in Canada’s northern regions, unlike solar or wind.

“Geothermal is a reliable source of renewable energy providing electricity, heat and hot water with zero emissions,” says Hira. “Advanced geothermal regions from Iceland to California to New Zealand and the Philippines have supported geothermal, whereas Canada remains a laggard but it doesn’t have to be this way.”

According to Hira, the cost of geothermal projects can be reduced by developing geothermal resources at existing oil and gas drilling sites throughout Western Canada. Cheaper, shallow geothermal fields can provide heat and hot water directly, reducing the need for water heaters and electricity.

Hira also notes that geothermal also requires less above ground space than large scale solar or wind projects, creates more jobs than natural gas and produces far less waste from a lifecycle perspective than solar.

A step forward for one geothermal project in B.C.

The Indigenous-led Clarke Lake Geothermal Development Project in northeastern B.C. shows the potential for geothermal projects in the north, which can provide an engine for local growth and reduce reliance on diesel.

It was announced this month that the Clarke Lake geothermal facility would receive funding from Natural Resources Canada. Additional support for the project is provided by the B.C. government, Indigenous Services Canada and Western Economic Diversification Canada.

The Clarke Lake facility is expected to produce enough clean electricity to power up to 14,000 households and by displacing fossil fuel generation will reduce 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, which is equivalent to taking over 5,000 cars off the road.