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Heat from great depths

Weisweiler geothermal energy

Hot water from a depth of several kilometres below ground not only has a beneficial and restorative effect in thermal pools. In Iceland it is used to a significant degree to generate district heating and even electricity. In Continental North-West Europe, geothermal energy also has the potential to supply residential areas and industrial plants with district heating. As a natural, renewable source of energy it would help significantly reduce our carbon footprint. That would contribute greatly to climate change mitigation, since the demand for heating accounts for 53% of the energy consumption of North-West Europe. But at the moment only 2.5% of that comes from renewable sources.

The European Union is researching the potential for so-called hydrothermal geothermal energy on a broad scale. Since early 2019, it has supported the Roll-out of Deep Geothermal Energy in North-West Europe project, or DGE-ROLLOUT. Climate and geology know no political bounds, the challenges are complex and a great deal of expertise is required. This is why 18 partners from six different countries led by the Geological Survey of NRW, including RWE Power AG, are taking part in the current project which is scheduled to run until the end of 2022. The common goal is to harness deep geothermal energy without fracking and put it to good use in North-West Europe — i.e. in a technically, economically and socially acceptable way.

As part of this project, the search is on to find rock formations with hollow spaces that will allow the flow of water heated to over 50 degrees Celsius. Via a specially developed borehole, the hot water will then be drawn up to the surface of the earth, so its heat can be utilised. The cooled water will be sent back via a second borehole to the rock layers it came from. An exploratory drilling phase from the premises of the Weisweiler power plant is scheduled for the second half of the year. RWE Power applied for the necessary permit in late November 2019 from the relevant authorities, the Regional Government of Arnsberg.

Great hydrothermal potential in Weisweiler

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This block diagram illustrates the underground geological layers in and around Weisweiler. The horizontal blue sections of limestone are of particular interest. The upper horizontal level of carboniferous limestone lies about 2,000 metres deep. Then there is a section of massive limestone about 3,000 metres deep. However, the exact position of the layers and their hot water permeability need further investigation before water at a temperature of 70 to 100 degrees can be used.

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18 project partners all pulling in the same direction

The German government supported the project’s application to Interreg. As far as the project management side is concerned — from planning through to final completion — the DGE-ROLLOUT will be supported by the europiZe company.

The European Union fosters “European territorial collaboration” as part of its structural and investment policy. With that in mind, it set up the Interreg programme 20 years ago to support transnational collaboration through strategic projects of national, regional and municipal partners within collaborative regions such as North-West Europe

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