MINISTERS have been told to provide funding and a regulatory system to develop a green energy technology that could heat thousands of homes in Scotland.

Geothermal energy, harnessing heat from the earth’s core, is an undeveloped renewable source in Scotland that could help meet demand as gas central heating is turned off in the coming decades.

It largely involves drilling down into the earth, but unlike fracking is a 100 per cent renewable form of energy.

Abandoned coal mines in the Central Belt could unlock the energy which could be connected to district heat networks – removing the need for gas central heating.

Scottish Renewables has told the UK Government that a “regulatory system and clear strategy for geothermal technologies” should be drawn up as well as a funding path amid hopes the technology could mirror the booming offshore wind sector.

In evidence submitted to the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee, Scottish Renewables highlighted that governments in Edinburgh and London “have committed to the rapid deployment of heat networks”, but added that “geothermal technologies are vastly unexplored as a potential heat source for heat networks”.

It added: “It is our position that the disused, abandoned mines in the Central Belt of Scotland are a potential heat source for heat networks and would aid both the UK Government and the Scottish Government to meet climate change and fuel poverty targets.

“It is our view that there needs to be a regulatory system and clear strategy for geothermal technologies in the UK to maximise the economic benefits and secure a just transition away from fossil fuels.”

A University of Strathclyde project, called the HotScot, projected that the potential geothermal energy in disused mines could meet demand for up to 8% of heat demand in Scotland.

Helen Melone, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “Heat makes half of the energy we use in Scotland, so reducing the carbon emissions produced while keeping Scotland warm is vital if we are to tackle climate change.

“Geothermal heat, found deep beneath the surface of the earth and in the disused, abandoned mines in the Central Belt of Scotland, could provide up to eight per cent of Scotland’s heat demand.”

She added: “We have called on the UK and Scottish Government to introduce a regulatory system and clear strategy for geothermal technologies so we can maximise their economic and environmental benefits and secure a just transition away from fossil fuels.

“To deliver the renewable energy that geothermal technologies provide, and to help with the scaling up of district heat networks, the Scottish and UK governments must also establish a clear process for funding across the UK that also supports projects at the research and development stage.”

Scottish Renewables has also pointed to "the cost of drilling" being a "major barrier for these projects moving forward".

It added: "This technology is not considered in the UK 6th carbon budget, therefore there is a lack of awareness about its potential and what it could contribute to the diverse energy mix we need to address climate change.

"There is not yet a route to market for the geothermal sector. It could become operational if treated similarly to other renewable technologies. For example, offshore wind is developing quickly as it has government support, ambitious targets and a finance stabilisation mechanism."

In the Scottish Government’s last energy strategy, published in 2017, it states that the administration “has worked with regulators to produce guidance for those interested in undertaking a deep geothermal project in Scotland”.

The Government’s updated energy strategy has been delayed and will be published later this year.

A study commissioned by the Scottish Government identified “three geothermal energy sources with significant potential” in Scotland – abandoned mines, “hot sedimentary aquifers” and “hot dry rocks”, which are likely to exist in high heat production granites such as those in East Grampian and to the north of Inverness.

But the Government’s heat in buildings strategy, published in October last year, only makes one reference to the technology – warning it is “less well developed in Scotland” but adds it “could have a role to play in particular communities and areas”.

The document adds: “We will continue to explore the potential for such solutions.”

The UK Government’s heat and buildings strategy, which largely doesn’t apply in Scotland, recognises the potential of geothermal energy.

Ministers are continuing to monitor technological developments to ensure geothermal can be a cost-effective energy source across the UK.

Analysis: Georthermal boom will need Government support

GEOTHERMAL energy could fill a valuable gap in Scotland’s energy needs – but there are several hurdles to leap over.

Eight per cent of Scotland’s heating needs could be powered from the thermal energy generated naturally from the earth.

The Scottish Government has pledged to end the country’s contribution to climate change by 2045 – signalling the end for fossil fuel gas boilers. All new builds in Scotland will be banned from installing fossil fuel boilers by 2024.

Much has been made of district heating systems, and geothermal energy, if harnessed properly and costs driven down, could play a key role.

There are misconceptions about geothermal energy. It is a renewable form of energy and despite it also requiring drilling into the ground, unlike fracking, it does not use or produce fossil fuels.

In simple terms, the deeper into the ground in certain places, the hotter the air is. Geothermal energy harnesses this naturally-occurring heat through steam or water.

In 2019, 27 countries generated a total of 88 billion kWh of electricity from geothermal energy.

In Iceland, around 85% of all homes are heated with geothermal energy, keeping fuel costs lower than many other countries in Europe.

Iceland is blessed with vast resources of geothermal energy, much like Scotland is for both wind and tidal power.

This geothermal potential will not be the same for Scotland, but it could make a difference to the country’s net zero ambitions – with one of the hardest barriers to overcome how to decarbonise heating in buildings.

According to the British Geological Survey, subsurface temperatures in the UK are 39C at 1,000m, 89C at 3,000m and 139C at 5,000m deep.

These temperatures are below the economic threshold for using geothermal energy to generate electricity, but they are high enough that the technology can be used for direct heat for buildings as well as “a variety of heat-intensive industrial processes and agricultural applications”.

But like the offshore renewables boom that the North Sea is now a huge cash cow for, initial costs for geothermal outweigh the benefits – meaning it will take government backing to get up and running. If the technology is to have a future in Scotland, the UK Government needs to send a signal that it will enjoy the support needed to lever in that crucial private investment.