EXPERTS have warned that the UK could miss the opportunity to develop a clean and limitless power source in the North Sea by failing to maximise the potential of geo-energy.

The Shift Geothermal organisation formed by academics and Scottish energy industry veterans says the North Sea would be an ideal place to produce energy by harnessing heat that is generated beneath the earth’s surface.

Directors of the organisation think geothermal energy could deliver up to 25 per cent of the UK’s energy mix by 2050 with the right encouragement.

They say geothermal energy systems could provide a productive use for oil and gas facilities which may otherwise be decommissioned at huge cost to the taxpayer, with the potential to create thousands of jobs in the process.

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Offshore wells could be adapted to pump hot water from beneath the earth for use in energy generation. Geothermal power generated offshore could be used to decarbonise oil and gas facilities or brought onshore via cables.

HeraldScotland: Image: Shift GeothermalImage: Shift Geothermal

But while some countries have adopted geothermal energy on a significant scale its potential has been largely overlooked in the UK, according to Shift. The organisation warned the UK risks being left behind in the race to develop projects that could support the net zero drive quickly enough and to secure the investment required.

The COP26 summit in Glasgow has underlined the urgency of the need to tackle climate change.

“The future energy mix will be increasingly diverse, and technologies must be accelerated to rapidly enable sources of net zero carbon energy,” said Shift director Alison Auld, who has worked on emissions reduction projects related to the Scotch whisky industry and as a senior engineer for the UK Government focused on fields such as geothermal energy, unconventional oil and gas and industrial waste heat recovery.

“People all too often think of Iceland and volcanoes when they think of geo-energy, but the technology has moved on. Repurposing and reusing existing offshore infrastructure for geo-energy is a transformational pivot for the UK to develop a new, limitless, home-grown clean energy source.”

Other directors of Shift Geothermal include Professor Eric McKay of the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering at Heriot-Watt University and Jon Gluyas, who helped develop North Sea-focused Acorn Oil and Gas and Fairfield Energy.

HeraldScotland: Shift Geothermal director Jon GluyasShift Geothermal director Jon Gluyas

“The UK has an opportunity to be a leader in how it recycles and repurposes its existing oil and gas infrastructure,” said Mr Gluyas, who is now a professor at Durham University and heads its energy institute.

“ Why charge ahead with decommissioning when we can rethink the future offshore sector and create new value by creating geo-energy hubs that provide clean power to existing oil and gas platforms, bring power to the shore and safeguard and create many thousands of jobs? It’s simply too big a resource to be ignored.”

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Shift is seeking official support to establish a new national centre for geo-energy in Scotland. It expects to identify and progress demonstrator projects and large scale exercises and to lobby for legislative and regulatory structures to be put in place in order to establish geo-energy as part of the future energy mix.

A spokesperson for the organisation noted: “The UK already has commercially operating geothermal systems onshore at the Southampton District Energy Scheme and Lanchester Wines, Gateshead.

“The US has successfully used onshore oil and gas facilities for geothermal. The next step is offshore at scale and a huge amount of global studies and research are showing the potential for this, which Shift Geothermal believes is the future. They want to speed up the studies and test projects needed to move this forward.”

Shift is a not-for-profit organisation and was founded last year by its seven directors.