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Tackling the environmental concerns for deploying geothermal energy in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GEOENVI (Tackling the environmental concerns for deploying geothermal energy in Europe)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-01-31

Deep geothermal has a great potential for development in many European countries. However, the advantages of using geothermal for power production and H&C (Heating and Cooling) are not widely known. Recently, deep geothermal energy production in some regions is confronted with a negative perception, particularly in terms of environmental performance, which could seriously hamper its market uptake. Thus, dealing properly with environmental issues is a prerequisite to the deployment of the deep geothermal resources. The concept of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) allows analysis and comparison of the environmental impacts of different energy production technologies over their life cycle stages – from extraction of raw materials to production, transport, use and end-of-life. In the framework of the H2020 programme, GEOENVI project, starting in November 2018 for 30 months, aims at engaging with both decision-makers and geothermal market actors, to adopt recommendations on environmental regulations and to harmonize, simplify and promote the implementation of LCA methodology by geothermal stakeholders. A sub-objective is to map environmental risks and impacts as well as mitigation measures and to make these results available through a public database. Once available, these data will be useful to better deal with risks and impacts. They will make it possible to better communicate on environmental issues. It should help reducing obstacles coming from lack of knowledge on environmental issues.
The first step of the project is to map environmental impacts and risks, and to make knowledge available in a public database. The database will be elaborated to enable efficient research, for instance depending on geography, geology, project characteristics, etc. In addition, information will be provided on mitigation measures and on regulations. This work will facilitate a common understanding of environmental risks and impacts within partners of the project, and will be a rich source of information for all stakeholders and for the public. Then, harmonized guidelines will be develop to conduct life cycle assessment and environmental impact assessment, using feedback and data from various European case studies. The engagement with decision-makers is an important part of the project, in order to promote recommendations for harmonisation of environmental regulations in the target countries and answer the policy and regulatory harmonization challenge. Harmonized guidelines to conduct life cycle assessment approaches and environmental impact methodologies will be promoted within the market actors in the target countries. Finally, a European dissemination of the results will enable a wide adoption and implementation of the project results.

GEOENVI looks into harmonizing existing regulations with LCA methodology by analyzing environmental impacts of geothermal plants in different geological settings throughout their lifetime. Simplified models which are suitable for pre-determined geothermal categorization are going to be developed, thus enabling less complex LCA assessment, with an acceptable degree of uncertainty. All stakeholders, such as decision makers, public institutions, and economic actors are going to be involved in the development. This will allow LCA assessment to be more integrated in the construction and implementation of regulations. Though leaving flexibility to adapt to the energy profile of different countries, and allowing an objective benchmarking with respect to other renewable energy technologies, the proposed approach will establish correct rules for the environmental costing of the two main outputs (electricity and heat) depending on the plant arrangement and on the general context. Collateral benefits to the project are the familiarization of life cycle thinking to a larger population, which in turns will bring its own socio-economic gain.
By creating a database of environmental impacts and risks and analysing their mitigation measures, GEOENVI will facilitate the harmonization of environmental impacts assessment methodology in a life cycle approach. The adoption of the outcoming recommendations of the GEOENVI project by decision-makers and market actors will support the increase of geothermal energy in the future energy mix, first in the target countries of the project, and then in all Europe.

Geothermal energy is one of the most promising renewable energy sources for producing electricity and H&C. Geothermal energy will be a key component of the future European energy systems. Results from past projects assessing its potential (GEODH and GEOELEC projects) show that geothermal energy could supply more than 10 % of EU energy consumption by 2050. Its main advantage is the possibility to offer a wide range of applications in the field of both electricity and H&C with the advantages of being non-intermittent, flexible and dispatchable. Besides it is not dependent on weather-related constraints.
However, the advantages of using geothermal for power production and H&C are not widely known. Recently, deep geothermal energy production in some regions has been confronted with a negative perception, and a special attention from some decision-makers, in terms of environmental performance, which could seriously hamper its market uptake.

Media reports focus more on disadvantages than benefits. Moreover, there is a growing environmental and societal consciousness and a related fear about explorations into the earth’s crust. As a result, decision makers and potential investors have concerns about possible environmental impacts and risks involved in implementing geothermal projects, and social resistance often results in practical obstacles - such as significant slowdowns – to the deployment of the deep geothermal resources.

The overall objective of the GEOENVI project is to make sure that deep geothermal energy can play its role in Europe’s future energy supply in a sustainable way. It aims at creating a robust strategy to answer environmental concerns (both impacts and risks):
- by providing an online public database to present clear and objective data concerning environmental issues,
- by setting an adapted methodology for assessing environment impacts and by implementing it on some case studies,
- by proposing recommendations on environmental regulations to the decision-makers and finally
- by communicating properly on environmental concerns with the general public.
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