Geothermal resources around the world: Insights from the Hugh C. Morris Fellowship I recently had the opportunity to share stories and scientific insights from my travels as a Hugh Morris Fellow. The slide deck is available here.
Bringing Global Geothermal Energy Expertise Back to Canada
My journey as a Hugh C. Morris Fellow was transformative both professionally and personally: I saw first-hand the geology of places I had previously only read about in papers; I learned an enormous amount about cutting-edge geothermal energy research occurring around the world; I met with experts, shared my ideas, and received valuable comments and criticisms; I made connections that I hope to maintain for future collaboration; and I gained a lot of confidence in myself as a scientist.
Over 5 months, I visited several corners of the earth where geothermal energy is actively being used or developed. I visited researchers at universities, government organizations, and private companies with the goal of gaining broad exposure to all aspects of geothermal research and industrial practices. Every visit was unique, both because no two geothermal systems are the same, and because the experts at each place bring different perspectives to the table. Thus, the ability to travel so widely in such a short period was invaluable, as it provided me with a comprehensive view of the industry that would otherwise take years to develop.
My journey began with a visit to Fairbanks, Alaska, where I learned about the use of low temperature geothermal energy in cold climates, especially exciting for remote, off-grid communities. I then moved to Iceland, where I learned about exploration efforts from experts at the Iceland GeoSurvey, and visited several geothermal power plants and district heating systems. My next stop was at the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy at the University of Nevada, Reno. While in town, I attended the Geothermal Resources Council annual meeting, which offered 3 days of talks on geothermal energy innovations, as well as field trips to nearby geothermal areas, and a short-course on 3D modelling of geothermal systems. From Reno, I travelled to Salt Lake City, where I visited the Energy & Geoscience Institute at the University of Utah. A highlight of this visit was a tour of the Milford Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) site. My US tour ended in San Francisco, where I visited several geothermal consulting firms, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and The Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal field. I then travelled to Germany, making stops at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, Erdwerk GmbH in Munich, and the GeoForschung Zentrum (GFZ) in Potsdam, where I learned about the efforts to harness low-temperature geothermal energy in unconventional settings in Germany. I made a quick visit to Norway, where I learned about a new analytical technique that I may apply to my own research, before taking a break from my ELP over the winter. In March, I travelled to New Zealand, where I visited with numerous researchers at GNS Science, a government geoscience research institute. I spent time in the well-known geothermal regions on the North Island, before heading to the South Island to learn about newly discovered geothermal anomalies in the Southern Alps. Needless to say, it has been a busy and inspiring 6 months!
“The first two months of my ELP have been incredible, and I have learned more than I ever hoped I would. I began with a visit to Fairbanks, Alaska, where I learned about the use of low temperature geothermal energy in cold climates. While there is a small amount of electricity generated by geothermal energy, the truly exciting application is for food security in the north. I then moved to Iceland, where geothermal energy provides 27% of national power generation, and around 90% of all space heating. I learned about exploration efforts from experts at the Iceland GeoSurvey, and visited several geothermal power plants, and district heating systems. My next stop was at the University of Nevada, Reno. The US is the world’s largest producer of geothermal energy, and some of the best resources and expertise are found in Nevada. While in town, I attended the Geothermal Resources Council annual meeting, which offered 3 days of great talks on geothermal energy innovations, as well as fieldtrips to nearby geothermal areas, and a short-course on 3D modelling of geothermal systems. Next up are Salt Lake City and Berkeley, before I head to Germany.” (by Theron Finley)
What is the role that geoscientists can play in the transition away from fossil fuels? This is a question that drives Theron Finley, a Masters student studying in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta.
To answer this question, Theron is exploring the possibility of high-temperature geothermal energy – a renewable, low emission, high capacity, base-load power source. Despite its wide use and commercial success in countries such as the United States, Iceland, Germany and New Zealand, there is neither an active industry nor any geothermal power plants yet installed in Canada. Several factors have coalesced to stagnate geothermal prospects in Canada. These include the low cost of energy from fossil fuel combustion, the high upfront costs of geothermal exploration (especially drilling), and the uncertainty of geothermal resource quality. Theron aims to contribute to geothermal energy research in Canada by gaining a better understanding of the geometry and permeability of major fault zones that act as conduits for hot fluids, so as to be able to better manage economic and technical risks associated with geothermal power production.
Through a four-month experiential learning journey, Theron will travel to carefully-selected world leaders in geothermal energy whose underlying geological setting and temperatures make them good learning comparatives. By journey’s end, Theron will have undertaken a journey across the western United States, Iceland, Germany, and New Zealand. Returning to Canada in February 2019, Theron will then travel to research facilities in various regions of Canada to share all that he has learned, and hopefully, become the spark for a new geothermal energy future here at home.
Beginning in September 2018, you can follow Theron’s journey here on our website, as he blogs about his experiences and shares the story of his adventure through absorbing story-telling and stunning photographs.