It is easy to understand what geothermal energy, also known as a Canadian well, consists of. Its base is simple. It is one that extracts energy from the heat located under the surface of the earth. Not through the water, as we have been able to see for years, but based on the solid elements under our feet. With the current energy and environmental crisis, geothermal energy is the new obsession of many. Also from the startup ecosystem, which seeks to gain a foothold in this 100% clean and renewable energy.
It has been the eternal forgotten of the clean energy group. Advanced, by far, by solar and wind power, geothermal energy has not enjoyed a good press for a compelling reason. To achieve it, it is necessary to tunnel kilometers into the interior of the Earth. This increases the cost and limits its installation in many regions. Generally associated with single-family homes, until now no thought had been given to its benefits for large populations. Unlike its renewable peers, geothermal energy has a great advantage: it does not depend on a weather map, since the center of the earth is stable 365 days a year. This means that it is not subject to price variations depending on the available offer.
For decades it has been used in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, France or the United States. Not ceasing to be, however, a minority energy model. In the North American country, geothermal energy only occupies just over 2% of total energy consumption. In Spain, this model of energy does not stop being something residual. Madrid, in new construction models for block developments or single-family homes, is already testing this new model. On La Palma, given its high volcanic activity close to the surface, it has also been studied as a possibility to address the energy independence of the island.
The so-called very low temperature geothermal energy, which runs between 0 and 30 degrees and is sufficient for homes, would be available throughout the peninsula. Now, if what we want is low-medium temperature, between 30 and 150 degrees, we have to look for specific places. Destined to feed the industry or points with great energy consumption, it would be necessary to go to the Ebro Valley, the Duero or the Guadalquivir account.
The interest in this new energy is so great, also accompanied by the oil and gas crisis in its connection to the war in Ukraine, that the European Union itself has also been encouraging research and investment in new energy models.
Some problems and many solutions for geothermal energy
As everyone will imagine, the deeper the reach, the more heat we will be able to access. Also, the more difficult it will be to get to that point. Although a depth of 20 kilometers is being tested for large industries, the most common experiences remain around 2 maximum. But the biggest problem with this clean energy, in addition to the initial cost, is the cycle of use: between 20 and 50 years. Many in terms of vitality and energy savings -it is not only used for heating, with a transformer it also allows cooling- but little in terms of the cost involved in a short space of time.
Regardless of cost, the interest in the geothermal energy sector is clear. It was, in fact, the first investment in renewable energy by Bill Gates’ fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, focused on startups in the sector. $1 billion to find the clean energy of the future. In 2018, Fervo Energy, a spin-off from the University of Berkeley, was already beginning to try to find solutions to extracting energy from the planet.
It’s not the only one. In the geothermal energy sector, others have also captured the attention of investing capital. Quaise, which in 2020 raised more than 5 million dollars, was trying to solve one of the biggest problems in this energy. Not all regions and terrains can install a heat extraction system. The harder the ground, the more difficult it will be to drill. Dense rocks or high pressures prevent many from accessing geothermal energy. Quise is testing millimeter wave perforations to be able to access this energy source in a simpler and cheaper way.
Quaise is, along with Dandelion, one of the most prominent in the sector. The latter, in fact, is part of the Google ecosystem. It’s Alphabet’s geothermal project and it’s been defined as energy for normal people.
Even the oil companies have expressed their interest in investing in this type of company. Eavor-Loop, invested by BP and Chevron, is focused on finding simpler and cheaper solutions to remove heat. Unlike peers in its industry, startup has engineered a large-scale heating system. Like the radiators in a home, cold water enters the earth, it heats up and goes out to the internal circuit to increase the temperature of homes. In this way, the subsequent transformation into other types of energy is avoided and allows heating up to a maximum of 16,000 homes on a scale.
They are not the only ones. Born in the UK, Deep Power is the new addition to the world of geothermal energy. His goal is to find faster and easier drilling models that go where no human has been able to go before. “The deeper we go, the more energy we can extract,” they explain in a statement. One that will have no limit at any time.
Nor do you have to go outside of Spain to find solutions to geothermal problems. Ingeka, a Basque company in the sector, operates with a complete installation system that includes underfloor heating and conventional radiators. Also for cooling in summer with passive cold floors. As explained by Geoplat, an organization that encourages the use of geothermal energy in Spain, the potential is very great, but it has to be accompanied by technological development.