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Geothermal energy looks to contribute more - 18/07/2007

Geothermal energy looks set to contribute more electricity to the national grid thanks to research initiatives aimed at increasing production from New Zealand’s geothermal areas.

Geothermal pipe

Geothermal energy currently contributes about 7 percent of New Zealand’s electrical energy generation. However, scientists believe it has the potential to increase to about 12 percent in the next eight years and could account for up to 20 percent of New Zealand’s electricity generation by 2020.

The Foundation for Research Science and Technology announced today it will invest $11.5 million over the next six years so GNS Science and The University of Auckland can investigate geothermal resources and make existing developments more efficient and reduce their environmental impact.

The joint programme will involve the two organisations working together. The research will be supported by significant co-funding from the geothermal energy industry.

New Zealand will benefit by having improved security of energy supply, increased energy from a resource that has low emission of greenhouse gases, and reduced environmental impacts of

Geothermal pipe

geothermal development.

GNS Science and The University of Auckland already work extensively with the geothermal energy sector. They will continue their close industry links throughout the research programme to enable easy uptake of the research.

The new programme, which will ramp up existing research, will focus on three main areas. It will investigate geothermal resources that are deeper and hotter than those currently tapped, it will work on methods to reduce environmental impacts, and it will address technical issues that are currently a barrier to improved efficiency and output.

Most existing developments tap into geothermal fluids of up to 320 degrees Celsius at depths of up to 3km. However, fluids at depths of 4km to 5km could be up to 400C. The geology and hydrology at these depths is not well understood and the technology of handling high temperatures needs further development. The research is aimed at improving the understanding of these deeper environments.

Geothermal pipe

Research will also be aimed at reducing the impact of development, through better understanding of fluid injection, land deformation, and the effects on surface ecosystems.

“ There’s no doubt that geothermal has the potential to deliver up to 20 percent of New Zealand’s annual electricity supply,” said GNS Science Geothermal Programme Leader Ed Mroczek.

“ The way to achieve this is through production from greater depths, production from under-developed and undeveloped fields, better managing environmental effects, and improving the efficiency of geothermal technology,” Dr Mroczek said.

“We’re excited that we now have the opportunity to research some of these challenges.”