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Tackling the environmental concerns for deploying geothermal energy in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - GEOENVI (Tackling the environmental concerns for deploying geothermal energy in Europe)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-04-30

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, worked from November 2018 for 30 months, to engage with both decision-makers and geothermal market actors, in order to adopt recommendations on environmental regulations and to harmonize, simplify and promote the implementation of LCA methodology by geothermal stakeholders. A sub-objective was to map environmental risks and impacts as well as mitigation measures and to make these results available through a public database.

GEOENVI reached its objectives with recommendations for harmonized environmental regulations all over Europe, and a methodology commonly agreed by European project developers to perform environmental LCA. LCA guidelines are referring to standardized rules ISO. Standardization provides a basis for technical/trade agreements and technical regulations.
These results make it possible to better communicate on environmental issues. It helps reducing obstacles coming from lack of knowledge on environmental issues.
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 have been developed, thus enabling less complex LCA assessment, with an acceptable degree of uncertainty. All stakeholders, such as decision makers, public institutions, and economic actors were involved in the development. This allowed 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 established 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.

GEOENVI aimed at engaging with both decision-makers and geothermal market actors, to adopt recommendations on regulations and to see the LCA methodology implemented by geothermal stakeholders. The engagement with stakeholders included sharing of knowledge by adopting an open and FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) data approach. The aim was to contribute to the development of a calm, transparent and trustworthy climate to discuss environmental concerns, thus favouring a solid deployment of future projects.

Regarding the objective to produce a reference framework for market actors to remove environmental concerns, a toolbox including tools and adapted methodologies on environmental impact assessments of geothermal energy projects, using a life cycle assessment approach has been launched. This toolbox is made available and was presented to decision-makers and market actors. This project has engaged the stakeholders and economic actors involved in operating or ongoing projects, with the intention to issue the robust recommendations of harmonized methods, which can later be implemented more efficiently. To ensure the practicability of the recommendations, these methods have been tested in selected areas, and the aim was then to replicate them across Europe. By achieving this objective, the GEOENVI project contributed to the progress of ongoing deep geothermal projects and future projects.

Overall, the objective to have a positive impact of the project was reached. The GEOENVI project allowed to provide science based information on environmental regulations for the climate &energy package 2030 and the EU Green Deal, on LCA for the sustainable finance. This gave the opportunity to the geothermal market to continue its deployment even further.
By creating a database of environmental impacts and risks and analysing their mitigation measures, GEOENVI facilitated 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 supported 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 created 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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