As Canada navigates the energy transition, a spectrum of zero-emission energy sources will be increasingly needed. Many parts of Canada are home to the natural conditions required for the extraction of geothermal energy, specifically in parts of Western Canada. It is also home to many workers with expertise in oil and gas extraction—a skillset that could also be applied to the geothermal industry. However, the geothermal industry is less developed in Canada than in comparable countries around the world.

Geothermal developments extract naturally-occurring underground energy in the form of heat to generate power and/or to heat nearby infrastructure. While wind and solar energy are variably-producing (daylight and weather conditions vary), geothermal is able to constantly produce near zero-emission, renewable energy, making it a potentially useful complementary resource where feasible. It is also a near emissions-free source of heat and so presents advantages in Canada’s cooler climate.

This media brief explores the global geothermal picture, how Canada fits in, and some of the projects currently underway in Canada.

An overview of geothermal

Globally, geothermal energy was responsible for more than 85,891 GWh of power generation in 2017 (0.3 per cent of the global total).

Global geothermal capacity is anticipated to grow by 28 per cent by 2024, with Asia responsible for one-third of global expansion. The United States is the world leader in terms of megawatts of geothermal power capacity, followed by Indonesia, Turkey and New Zealand.

Canada produces minimal electricity from geothermal, primarily due to potentially higher upfront costs, competition from existing investments in other types of power generation and a lack of regulatory and policy support. However, there are some projects in the early stages as per the following examples.

Geothermal for power

Geothermal for power generation typically requires source temperatures over 120oC for efficiency. There are two main types of geothermal power facilities.

    • Flash steam” plants, where the fluid temperatures are very high (over 170°C), steam or very hot “geofluid” (which boils after being depressurized) is extracted from a reservoir and used to turn a turbine.
    • Binary cycle” plants, where the geofluids can be used to heat a secondary fluid with a lower boiling point, which subsequently evaporates and is used to turn a turbine.

Geothermal for heat 

There are two ways of creating heat from geothermal energy, usually referred to as “direct-use”:

    • “Direct heat,” where the hot geofluid is pumped directly into the heating system. This can be used in pools or spas and other specific applications where the unique chemistry of the water is beneficial.
    • “Heating via a heat exchanger,” where the geofluid heats a secondary fluid (usually water) that is then used in the heating system.

Many buildings are heated (and sometimes cooled) using ground-source heat pumps which do not require the unique condition for geothermal energy generation as they take heat out of the air (or a body of water) in the summertime (cooling) and store it underground for use in the winter.  They are already in use across Canada for heating and cooling buildings. These types of systems are often referred to as “geoexchange.” Ground-source heat pumps offer energy cost savings of approximately 65 per cent compared to electrical heating systems.

Geothermal energy can also be used for industrial and agricultural processes that use energy in the form of heat. Things like grain, fruit and vegetable drying, greenhouses, snow melting, lumber drying and pulp and paper processing. Most modern geothermal power plants are developed with direct use applications co-located close to the power plant.

Geothermal in Canada

Canada is home to the necessary conditions for geothermal energy generation, with most potential noted in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. There are several projects underway in varying states of completion:

  • Alberta No. 1
    • Alberta’s first conventional geothermal power facility, near Grande Prairie, aims to provide approximately 5 MW of power as well as heat to a nearby industrial park.
    • The heat value of the geofluid is equivalent to energy released from burning 350,000 barrels of oil per year.
    • The project is partnered with PCL Construction, the Municipal District of Greenview and Terrapin Geothermics.
  • Razor Energy Corp.
    • A second Alberta-based project proving the concept of “co-production” where hot geofluids are pumped to the surface during oil and gas production, these hot fluids are being tested for power generation.
  • DEEP Saskatchewan
    • A 5-MW power facility near the town of Torquay, targeted for construction completion in early 2022. The project is set to power 5,000 homes a year while offsetting about 40,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, the equivalent of taking about 8,000 cars off the road.
  • Eavor-Lite Project, Alberta
    • Pilot project in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta.
  • Clarke Lake, B.C.
    • A First Nation led project submitted an application for a permit to explore the opportunities to convert an aging gas field into a geothermal resource.
  • Lakelse Lake, B.C.
    • A First Nation led project to develop the geothermal potential near Lakelse Lake, south of Terrace, B.C.
    • The first phase of the project Kitselas Geothermal project is estimated to create 87 jobs with 17 permanent positions and save more than 20,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year. Future phases of the project are projected to create an additional 800 jobs and save a further 300,000 tonnes of carbon emissions yearly.
  • Canoe Reach, B.C.
    • A project led by Borealis GeoPower in collaboration with the Village of Valemount.
    • The project is estimated to create at least 22 jobs in its first phase with four permanent positions while reducing around 4,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year.
    • Valemount has been reported to have among the worst winter air quality in the province.  Developing a geothermal energy district-heating project has the potential to positively impact air and health quality.

Content courtesy of Clean Energy Canada.

Feature image credit: Alberta 1 project.

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