Going Underground For New Power Solutions

Geothermal energy and ground source heat pump solutions are being used to generate electricity to power and heat homes. These renewable energy technologies provide low carbon solutions for sustainable development.

Geothermal Power

Geothermal energy has been exploited for many years around the globe: in1904 geothermal energy was first used as a source of power. On the 4th July 1904 in Larderello, Italy, a business man, prince and Italian politician Piero Ginori Conti, tested the first ever geothermal power generator. The small generator provided enough power to illuminate a few light bulbs. This was the beginning of the modern geothermal industry according to the Clean Energy Ideas web site. Piero continued to develop the technology and went on to build the pioneering geothermal power plant. It became operational in 1911 at the Valle del Diavolo or Devils Valley, also in Larderello. This ‘dry-steam’ geothermal power plant would provide electricity for the Italian railway system and would remain the world’s only geothermal power plant for a further 11 years until 1922. The regional geology of the area makes it conducive to geothermal power production, as there are hot granite rocks that are close to the surface producing steam as hot as 202°C.

Today there is a geothermal museum, the Museo Geothermica, in the town to celebrate the past developments. The geothermal power plant here today generates around 10% of the world’s entire supply of geothermal electricity: 4,800 GWh per year which powers around a million households. From the Italian beginnings, geothermal power is now being used around the world. New Zealand was the next country to develop a major power plant using this source of power in the 1950s. That country has plenty of geothermal potential for power.

Geothermal energy companies now drill wells and harness rising hot water from the well in order to extract heat to generate electricity or to heat nearby homes. Today there are around 600 geothermal power plants globally according to this BBC report. Typically those plants are in active seismic zones where there are tectonic plate boundaries. It is likely that the number of power plants will double and there are many being planned in Europe, Africa and other continents.

Even countries that are not located close to tectonic plate boundaries may have sources of geothermal power. Power generated from these sources utilise much lower water temperatures than those on active tectonic boundaries. In the UK the first geothermal power (binary) plant is situated in Cornwall, south west England, an area associated with granite geology. The company has drilled the deepest well in the UK at over 3 miles (5275 metres) deep in a geological fault: the Porthtowan Fault. The temperature at that depth is around 200°C. This power plant has been developed with a mix of public and private money and will generate power over many years in the future. The initial plant will produce 3MW of geothermal electricity sold through green energy supplier Ecotricity who specialise in selling only renewable sources of energy. This project follows on from the UK’s first lido supplied by geothermal hot waters, in Jubilee Pool, Penzance, also in Cornwall.

This geothermal power supply will be expanded to produce up to 20MW of electricity. The initial supply, from the 3MW plant, will be enough to provide power for 10,000 households. The benefit of geothermal power is that it will offer continuous power that is of a consistent output through the day and night.

The New Power Source To Heat A Historic English Village

In 2017 Swaffham Prior Community Land Trust and Cambridgeshire County Council initiated a project to bring renewable energy to Swaffham Prior, a village in the east of England near Cambridge. Following a series of technical studies, it was decided that a Ground Source Heat Pump would provide thermal energy to be pumped through a network and into village households. There is also an electrode boiler as a backup supply.

The £9 million project will extract underground heat. The village has no mains gas and one resident spends £3,750 each year, on average, to buy fuel oil. The heat network should save £500 each year. 150 homes aim to connect to the UK’s first village zero carbon heating system. Heating Swafham Prior will provide a network of hot water linked to the ground and air source heat pumps. The scheme encourages residents to sign up with no up front costs and they should save around £500 each year based upon current heating costs. Construction is due to start in the spring and the project will begin to deliver new heat in May 2021.

260 boreholes, up to 200 metres deep, will allow water will be circulated underground by pumps with heat exchangers to raise the temperature to 75°C. Each home will have a small heat interface to use the water for heat and hot water. An air source heat pump will supplement the ground source heat pump and a 750W solar array will provide about half the power to run the system. More than 160 out of 300 homes have expressed an interest. This number may increase as the benefits become obvious. Collective community change is important for this project. The £9M project is largely funded through public funds as an evaluation project for the technologies.

Properties with existing radiators do not need to upgrade them to join the heat network. The system has been designed to supply heat to all 300 homes in the village of Swaffham Prior, including the historic (listed) buildings. A heat interface unit will be installed in houses which will receive heat from the central energy centre. Current boilers will be replaced with the heat interface which operates at the same temperature range, of 70 – 75°C, as boilers. This means it can integrate with an existing central heating systems aiming to make the changes hassle free; without making additional changes within the households.


These two schemes highlight long term zero carbon solutions to electric power and heat provision. Both are avoiding pollution and the technologies offer the beginnings of sustainable, localised heat and electrical power provision projects. Model schemes, such as these, could be adopted by other villages or community power projects. They both work well with other renewable power mixes, if needed. The Swaffham Prior village example enables the removal of expensive fossil fuel based heating oil heating systems. Whilst both solutions have a high up-front cost, the overall longer term cost of energy is cheap and reliable.

Posted in Community Interests, Earth Science, Energy, Italy, PV, Renewable Energy, Solar, Sustainable Development, Technology, Zero | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Futurology: Two Future Cities

Two Middle Eastern countries have ambitious plans to reinvent the city. Plans include making living sustainable and incorporating a technological future as well. Both cities, Neom in Saudi Arabia and Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are proposing re-invented cities as places to live and work for the twenty first century and beyond. Each city aims to remove traffic from streets, mainly by having roads and deliveries below ground, and rely upon renewable energy to power them.

Each of these cities offer some new ideas as to what a city should be for the future. Both are international projects being promoted by their country. They are both seen as examples of the future and perhaps a new model for living. As with everything, the visions presented may be hard to achieve and there are issues with relocating indigenous tribal people in the case of Neom.

Neom City

Neom City is a brand new planned development in Saudi Arabia. The city is located in a desert next to the Red Sea in the north west Saudi province of Tabuk. It is an ambitious $500 billion plan for a zero-carbon city that will be built in a 170 kilometre straight line. The city is to be without roads and cars and will populate a global population of a million people. It is part of the country’s Vision 2030 strategy that will diversify its economy away from its reliance on oil and make the country a technology hub.

The first stage of the project is The Line which is a new linear 170 kilometre city. There is a vision for “zero cars, zero streets and zero carbon emissions” and its inhabitants could fulfil all their daily requirements, including education and leisure, within a five-minute walk of home. Pedestrians will be separated from a distribution system on another, subterranean, level and a further “spine” level that has high speed transport. Proposals for the re-imagined city will see construction begin soon, in early 2021. The city is expected to contribute $48 billion to the kingdom’s economy and create 380,000 jobs. The project itself will cost between $100 billion and $200 billion.

Neom aims to have an energy system based upon 100% renewable energy. It will have smart transmission and distribution networks with the latest and most advanced technologies. It will aim to pioneer other renewable sources of fuel such as green hydrogen. New technology and re-imagining of a city are at the core of the project including sustainable food production systems.

The city has already caused some controversy: it has displaced members of the Howeitat tribe from some of their traditional homelands to build the megacity. This tribe comes from this part of Saudi Arabia, and across borders into Egypt and Jordan. A new international airport will challenge the zero carbon ambitions. Will the expected international investment flow into a country that does not have a good record of human rights? Further details can be found on this article on the Middle East Eye website and the Business Insider.

Masdar City

Masdar city is another pioneering middle eastern sustainable city. Located in the United Arab Emirates, 17 kilometres south-east of the city of Abu Dhabi, it was began in 2008 and has been described as a ‘greenprint for sustainable urban development’. The city is pioneering sustainability and is a hub for research and development, spearheading innovations to achieve greener, more sustainable urban living. Plans have encouraged minimal water usage and re-use including rainwater harvesting systems. Buildings are designed to use 40% less water and energy than similar buildings based upon international baselines. Low carbon cement is used for their construction. Masdar city has one of the largest clusters of low carbon buildings in the world and they are designed to high sustainability standards.

The city relies on renewable energy systems. A 10-megawatt solar field within the master plan site generates electricity which can be fed back to the Abu Dhabi grid if there is insufficient demand. It is home to the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The city is looking forward to sustainable futures. It has been designed looking back in time to traditional middle eastern cities that have narrow streets that provide shade and cool the urban area.

Masdar Institute has energy efficient buildings oriented to shade both the adjacent buildings and the pedestrian streets below. The facades are also designed to be self-shading. Extensive roof-mounted photovoltaic installations provide power and further protection from the direct sun. Cooling air currents are directed through the public spaces using a contemporary interpretation of the region’s traditional wind towers, and green landscaping and water provide evaporative cooling.

Like the plans for Neom, transport is removed to beneath the city to allow the focus on pedestrian streets that don’t have traffic. Electric autonomous vehicles are used to provide personal transport on a low level beneath the streets.


Both these cities have a strong vision to create new places that will have more sustainable, long-term designs than current cities. They both focus on innovations for making better places to live and work. Each could be used as blue prints (or ‘greenprints’ as Masdar has suggested) for new cities around the world. Both cities offer bold new plans which could be used in existing settlements that need to re-imagine what they are for in this century and beyond. Each city needs to show that its ambitions can be achieved to improve living conditions for their residents as well as offering the sustainable futures that they are aiming to deliver.

Posted in Airport, Cities, Climate Solutions, Energy, Energy efficiency, Geography, Middle East, Net Zero, PV, Renewable Energy, Smart, Smart Cities, Solar, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Technology, Zero | Tagged | Leave a comment

Low Carbon Transport Solutions

During 2020 this blog has considered some existing or developing solutions for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Many innovations are being progressed or are in the pipeline. There are many solutions that have been developed and are being utilised to have a positive impact on the environment and improving air quality already.

This month there is a review of three transport projects that are developing clean energy solutions for trains, ferries and cars. Any hydrogen fuel used needs to be the so-called “green hydrogen” that is generated from clean energy sources. If hydrogen is used from fossil fuel based sources, then there will not be the same benefits.

The Hydrogen Train Revolution

In Germany, Siemens and Deutsche Bahn, the national train operator, are testing a hydrogen powered train that has a range of 600 kilometres. The technology aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by making 1,300 diesel units obsolete. A two-car train powered by a new hydrogen drive will commence trials in 2024 for a year. The train will have a top speed of 160 kilometres per hour (99.4 miles per hour). It can be recharged in 15 minutes. The train, the Mireo Plus H, will run in the state of Baden-Württemberg. The new hydrogen drive will save around 330 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year. It will make a significant contribution toward achieving climate carbon reduction targets. Deutsche Bahn plans to eliminate diesel trains from its network by 2050 and hydrogen is one option for railway lines that are not electrified already (or are uneconomic to electrify).

The train will be powered by a battery and fuel cells that converts hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. It is a hybrid model. Siemens will develop a three-car train with a longer range of 1,000 kilometres (621 miles). Whether power is from renewable electricity or hydrogen for railways the principal factor is that the energy comes from renewable sources. Germany is pioneering modern, sustainable rail transport. See this CNN report for further details.

Hydrogen looks to be a promising energy source for railways. France’s Alstom has already tested a hydrogen-powered train in northern Germany from 2018. It has expanded the service to Austria. The Coradia iLint train is the only hydrogen powered train to have operated in passenger service covering over 180,000 kilometre in service in Germany and now Austria. It has undertaken trials in the Netherlands. In the UK there have been trials of a hydrogen powered train from September 2020. There are several hydrogen train trials underway.

The hydrogen “fuelled” vehicles typically use a chemical process using fuel cells. The fuel cells combine hydrogen from onboard storage tanks with oxygen from the atmosphere to create electricity with by-products of water vapour and heat. It is a chemical process that does not involve combustion and there are no carbon or other harmful emissions. A hybrid approach combines the fuel cells and batteries which allows for regenerative energy capture further boosting the mixed energy source. Details can be found on The Engineer web site.

The Ferry Revolution: Bangkok’s Electric Powered Catamarans

Bangkok is the world’s most visited city, welcoming nearly 23 million international visitors last year. Air quality within the city is regularly recorded at unhealthy levels due to a combination of factors, including traffic, construction and factory emissions and the burning of waste and crop residues. Often pollutants, such as exhaust fumes, cannot dissipate from the city due to local weather conditions. In January 2020 there were at least seven days with air pollution being recorded at an unhealthy level in the city.

Thailand’s Government is beginning to clean up its air by the promotion of alternative energy modes of transport. 27 fully-electric catamarans form part of an ambitious strategy that includes a US$3 billion battery factory and range of electric cars. Each of the 24 metre long catamaran can carry 200 passengers and will contain two electric motors manufactured by Danfoss Editron. The motors provide a continuous power output of between 174-192kW, depending on the temperature they are operating at. They offer smaller dimensions, lighter weight and higher efficiencies than current diesel motors and are designed to operate in tough operating environments.

In addition, fast-charging dockside stations are being installed by Energy Absolute as part of a US$33 million investment in the project. These electric charging stations will be capable of charging ferries in around 15 minutes. Ferries will have a range of range of 80-100 kilometres; they will be capable of operating for between two and four hours on each charge. Two ferries are undergoing initial trials with the aim of rolling out the larger fleet over the course of a year. Hotels and real estate developers have also expressed interest in the fully-electric catamarans which could further reduce emissions on Bangkok’s waterways. Further details can be found on the Danfoss website.

The Re-fuelling Revolution

The UK has its first all-electric recharging station. The Gridserve forecourt is in South East England near Braintree has 36 charging points exclusively for electric vehicles. The company has plans for many more of these charging stations. It has a stated aim of making electric vehicle driving an “enjoyable, ultra-convenient and stress-free experience.”

This company has a UK wide £1 billion programme to install further electric charging stations. The aim is to take the concerns of “range anxiety” and ensure that there are good quality facilities available to allow people to re-charge electric vehicles. The service station is being re-imagined for the future with retail, leisure, meeting rooms and even an option to generate electric power from exercise bicycles! Canopies are covered with solar PV so that all roof space is dedicated to generating more clean power.

Innovations such as this will make the charging experience much better for people who have electric cars. The charging centre is a destination with facilities such as shops including a post office which will mean that time taken to charge a vehicle can be used productively undertaking other tasks.

Whilst this is the first of many all electric charging stations, it will be interesting to see if the design for later stations evolves to make for an even better experience.


The climate solutions outlined here offer a cleaner way to transport people around. There needs to be an acceleration of technologies such as these to provide cleaner ways to get around. All solutions will reduce local air quality impacts and provide alternatives to fossil fuel use. Any hydrogen used for powering trains or other transport should be derived from renewable sources as should the sources of power to fuel the catamarans and cars. The service station is using solar PV to provide a clean energy solution.

Posted in Air Quality, Carbon Dioxide, Climate Solutions, Electric Car, Energy, Fuel Cells, Germany, Hydrogen Fuel, Netherlands, Pollution, railways, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Transport, Zero | Leave a comment