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Geothermal energy

What is geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy is heat energy stored beneath the earth’s surface. It can be extracted as a source of renewable heat and power. Energy is extracted by drilling wells and circulating a fluid or brine through an underground reservoir and then using it at the surface as direct heat or using it to produce electricity. Potential applications for geothermal energy depend on the fluid temperatures and flowrates accessible, a function of the resource’s depth and rock characteristics (e.g., porosity, permeability).

There are three main types of geothermal power plants:

  1. Dry steam plants use steam directly from a geothermal reservoir to turn generator turbines. The first geothermal power plant was built in 1904 in Tuscany, Italy, where natural steam erupted from the earth.
  2. Flash steam plants take high-pressure hot water from deep inside the earth and convert it to steam to drive generator turbines. When the steam cools, it condenses to water and is injected back into the ground to be used again. Most geothermal power plants globally are flash steam plants.
  3. Binary cycle power plants transfer heat from geothermal hot water to another fluid. The heat causes the secondary fluid to turn to steam, which is used to drive generator turbines.

Geothermal energy in Canada

Canada has vast geothermal energy resources that could be used as clean sources of power, relying primarily on binary cycle power plants to generate geothermal energy. The potential for geothermal development is distributed throughout Canada, but more data is required for much of Canada’s land. The highest temperature geothermal resources are located in British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Alberta. Further research and mapping are required to reduce exploration risk and support regulatory development.

Presently, several heat and power generation projects are being developed with support from Natural Resources Canada. Through the Emerging Renewable Power Program (ERPP), Natural Resources Canada have invested to help de-risk early stage development and to advance a small number of geothermal projects. Additionally, the Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways (SREPs) Capacity Building Program provided funding for pre-development activities, including geothermal development in Canada.

Geothermal energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D) at NRCan

NRCan’s science and technology experts are advancing geothermal energy through various avenues.

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