Should Canada Go Geothermal?

Taken from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions Website
Published Oct 16, 2014

British Columbia has no geothermal power generation, but according to new research released by Canada’s geothermal energy sector, the province could generate 5,500 megawatts of power from geothermal sources — equivalent to about five times the generating capacity of the potential Site C hydroelectric dam, at prices of 10 cents per kilowatt hour or less. The provincial government is preparing to make a decision on whether to go ahead with Site C sometime in November. A Joint Review Panel that examined BC Hydro’s application for Site C noted that there were potential alternatives that hadn’t been fully explored, including geothermal. Utility-scale geothermal energy typically involves drilling up to thousands of metres into the earth to tap hot spots, such as areas with young or active volcanoes, to draw heat to the surface to generate steam to drive power turbines. Among the advantages of geothermal power is that it involves low running costs, it is reliable, and it does not create pollution.

As countries around the world attempt to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, geothermal energy is a potential source of clean power generation in tectonically active areas such as Iceland or the Pacific Ring of Fire. Japan, for example, currently has 17 geothermal power stations and has plans to develop more. France also has plans to increase its use of geothermal energy, despite being a more geologically stable country than either Iceland or Japan. Currently, Paris has the world’s second-largest concentration of geothermal wells, after Iceland, and is developing a 13-kilometre geothermal network that will ultimately bring heat to 180,000 Parisian homes. There are no such initiatives underway in Canada, despite high geothermal resources, especially in BC and the Yukon. Ironically, Canadian energy companies run geothermal power plants around the world but not here, largely because abundant hydropower and fossil fuel energy makes geothermal power economically uncompetitive in most of the country. But the fact remains: geothermal resources in British Columbia are significant and offer an opportunity for the province to reinforce its commitment developing low-carbon energy resources. Those will become increasingly economically attractive when (not if) the price on carbon emissions escalates in the future.