July 14, 2012

Will Eden's Geothermal Plans Make Cornwall Energy Independent?

According to the front page news in this morning's Western Morning News, and under the headline "Eden in new 'hot rocks' scheme":

Energy independence, hi-tech jobs and a long-term income from exporting power to other parts of the country could be a reality for Cornwall by the end of the decade.

It's not a reality just yet, however, since although the Eden Project obtained planning permission for a geothermal energy facility from Cornwall County Council back in 2010:

A partnership made up of EGS Energy Limited and the Eden Project say the potential to exploit the region's underground heat sources is virtually limitless and that investment is needed now to ensure the new industry is driven forward. The consortium hopes to sink the UK's first geothermal pipes deep into the earth's crust early next year, EGS and Eden are calling on the Government and entrepreneurs to back the £35 million scheme.

If the required investment is forthcoming Eden Project co-founder Tim Smit predicts:

A 30-mile network of geothermal plants along the route of Cornwall's granite backbone would be capable of producing a fifth of the UK's entire energy needs. What we are looking at is the birth of a completely new industry – and Cornwall could become a world leader in it. It has the potential to generate an enormous amount of energy and an enormous number of jobs.

Unfortunately investment in deep geothermal energy has been sadly lacking for far too long in this United Kingdom of ours. No doubt hoping for some change in that regard Mr. Smit compares the current "energy crisis" to World War II:

When Winston Churchill built the Mulberry harbours for D-Day, the size of the undertaking was unimaginable and deemed impossible. That was a time of national emergency and I would argue that protecting Britain's future energy needs is also an emergency and therefore requires equal focus, equal ingenuity and equal investment. We already know that this technology works – all we need now is for the Government to be brave enough and confident enough to push the project forward.

The editorial in today's paper, apparently "The Voice of the West Country", goes on to discuss renewable energy in general, this time under the headline "Renewables big challenge is to talk to communities":

Renewables are far more than a buzzword. They are a crucial part of all of our futures, harnessing the natural power of the earth and turning it into the power that we humans depend on. In the main that is heat, and electricity, generated by wind, wave, water, and as we report today hot rocks.

The South West is a renewables hot spot. It is windy, it has hundreds of miles of coastline, it has wave power and, critically, world-leading wave technology.

The leader writer goes on to point out that:

Another planning battle is likely in Devon after renewable company Lightsource said it intended to submit a planning application for a 54-acre solar farm at Bowhay Farm, in Shillingford Abbot, near Exeter.

As luck would have it we are well aware of that particular issue here at econnexus.org.uk! Moving on the voice of the West Country concludes by saying that:

[A 30-mile network of geothermal plants] is an incredible vision, and one that Eden's Tim Smit likens to John Rockefeller and the birth of Standard Oil in United States in the 1870s. Such a project could bring cheap energy, hi-tech jobs, and help our region tackle both fuel security and fuel poverty.

What renewables needs is belief, not just of the visionary entrepreneurs like Smit, EGS and Good Energy – the company behind the Week St Mary project. It needs the belief of all of us. To tackle issues as great as climate change, fuel dependency, fuel poverty and the price of fuel, the South West and all of us who live and work here need to embrace renewable energy and all the challenges that come with it. Visual impact will always spark a reaction in rural communities.They need to be engaged early, asked what they want, they feel, and most importantly what they fear.

Personally I'd go even further. Beyond all that, politicians locally, nationally and indeed globally who comprehend the scientific and engineering issues involved would be a great help too.

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