We don’t hear a lot about geothermal energy in discussions of alternative, environmentally friendly energy sources, but maybe that’s about to change:
A comprehensive new MIT-led study of the potential for geothermal energy within the United States has found that mining the huge amounts of heat that reside as stored thermal energy in the Earth’s hard rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the electricity the United States will need in the future, probably at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact.
Some early research into geothermal energy was done right here at the University of Regina. Here’s the pertinent sidebar from my book A Safe and Prosperous Future: 100 years of engineering and geoscience achievements in Saskatchewan:
The U of R geothermal well
For about 10 years in the 1970s and 1980s, Dr. Laurence Vigrass was the chief investigator on a project designed to demonstrate the use of geothermal energy from sedimentary basins to heat buildings.
In December of 1979 and January of 1980, the team drilled a well 2 200 m deep on the south side of the U of R campus. “The temperature at the bottom of the well is about 62 degrees C, and we could produce that water at about 60 degrees C,” Vigrass said. “One calculation we made was that we probably could have supplied about 3 megawatts of heat energy, not as electrical energy, of course, but energy for heating purposes.”
The plan was to use the geothermal energy to heat a field house or athletic complex. The hot brine from deep underground wouldn’t have circulated directly through the building; instead, it would have heated fresh water via a heat exchanger, and the heated fresh water would then have circulated the heat through the facility. That way, Vigrass said, “just in case there is a breakage of some sort then at least you’re not dealing with that really salty water.”
Then U of R president Lloyd Barber was very supportive of the idea, but unfortunately, Vigrass said, the demonstration facility was never built. “The well is still there, but we never did drill the second well you would need to dispose of those really salty waters,” he said.
But even though the project never reached the demonstration stage, he said, “I really think we learned a lot.”