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Seeking New Energy, an English Town Digs Deep

by ace
Seeking New Energy, an English Town Digs Deep

It was never a communal pool. Built in 1935 to commemorate a king's birthday, the Jubilee Pool is filled with over one million gallons of seawater, making it one of the UK's largest readings, as public outdoor swimming areas are called. free.

Five years ago, however, the Art Deco pool was destroyed after decades of neglect and a major winter storm that hit the country's southwest coast in 2014.

Now she is harnessing a source of energy that her creators hope will bring Cornwall County to life. Next year, despite some obstacles, the pool is expected to be available year round, and a new geothermal plant nearby could provide a new source of electricity for a region that has experienced economic decline.

Cornwall has a big advantage when it comes to alternative energy production: it sits atop a 280 million year old granite mass known as Cornwall Batolith, which is geologically ideal for geothermal energy production.

No one thought of that though, when the Jubilee Built in the town of Penzance as part of the celebration of King George V's silver jubilee. Filled with enough seawater for two Olympic-sized pools, it was a thriving community resource. But it has declined over the years, and after major damage from the 2014 storm, the local authority wondered if it was worth saving.

A bunch of enthusiastic locals got the wrecking ball. They volunteered to take over the management of the pool, with the mission of serving the community as before.

Susan Stuart, a local hotelier, became one of the group's founding directors. "Penzance is a pretty poor city and less than 40% of families here have cars," she said. “Buses are very expensive. So for kids who can't go to the beaches, this is a safe way to swim in the sea. "

After a two-year renovation, the pool reopened in 2016, and Stuart and his colleagues proved right; the reborn lido saw participation rise from 26,000 to 40,000 in the 16 weeks of summer.

This limited operating window, however, was a puzzle. Fed by the sea and flooded by the tides, the pool was not heated, making it too cold for winter swimming – a big missed opportunity, Stuart said.

The solution was under his feet.

ImageThe Jubilee Pool.CreditGeothermal Engineering Limited Drilling Rig

Now, in a small piece of land adjacent to the pool, a hole has been drilled in the rock on which the lido is built. Starting next year, the expectation is to provide geothermal energy to help heat the new winter section of the lido, allowing residents to swim in any weather.

The project, which will cost about £ 1.8 million (about $ 2.2 million), is being paid for by a combination of grants and various other sources of funding, including selling shares to local residents for £ 20. each. The drilling was performed by Geothermal Engineering, a local start-up that has high ambitions for geothermal energy.

Cornwall's batholith is a prime location for geothermal projects. Granite contains a small amount of radioactive elements, such as uranium and thorium, which produce heat as they deteriorate. To capture this heat, water is pumped from the surface through cracks in the batholith. Water absorbs the heat from the rock as it flows and is then brought back to the surface as overheated water, which immediately turns to steam. It can then be used to power turbines or provide direct heat.

Cornwall is not the only place in the world with large granite deposits, but it offers one advantage: the rock extends to the earth but is still shallow enough to make it accessible.

The first attempts to exploit geothermal energy in the region occurred during the 1970s oil crisis; As fossil fuel prices soared, so did interest in alternative energy sources as well. Initial data were positive, but inconsistent funding prevented further progress.

That changed a decade ago when Ryan Law, a geologist, first visited the region. He was working to Arup, an engineering design company and had experience using geothermal heat for offices and residential buildings.

What Law saw in Cornwall, however, was remarkable. "It's almost as if someone had created the underground plant for us," he said. "The only trick – and quite expensive – is how do you enjoy this heat?"

So he founded Geothermal Engineering to answer that question. Since then it has raised £ 18 million to fund its exploration.

The company faced two challenges: identifying the right location for a hole and then drilling deeper than ever before in the UK. Examining the region, Law and his team identified United downs, near the isolated town of Redruth, as a promising spot; sits atop a geological structure known as Porthtowan fault, which met their geological parameters.

Last November, the company began drilling two columns, one of which reached a record depth for the UK of about 5.2 kilometers. They were completed this summer and the drilling rig left the site in late July.

Law plans to test the site for several months to begin construction of Cornwall's first geothermal power plant in March. He expects to complete in about a year. The central turbine will be housed in a building slightly larger than a single family house; nonstop, it is expected not to produce carbon dioxide and to generate three megawatts of electricity per day – enough, according to the company, to supply about 3,000 homes.

Geothermal power sites in other parts of the world provide significant heat to local communities without carbon dioxide emissions, which contributes to global warming; Many of the buildings in Reykjavik, Iceland, for example, are heated in this way.

There is already a rival geothermal project in Cornwall led by Sir Tim Smit who invented the Eden Project on the outskirts of St. Austell. The global garden consists of huge plant-filled biomes that live in a simulated environment. (It was used as a futuristic setting in the James Bond movie "Die Another Day.") A geothermal power plant in Eden is expected to be operational by 2023, supplying all project electricity, plus enough for 6,000 homes.

Molly Scott Cato, local member of the European Parliament and Green Party policy, advocates efforts to harness geothermal energy in the region.

"Cornwall is very economically deprived and is now seen as a rural backwater – a tourist area," she said. "But they don't want to be that. This is where the Industrial Revolution began; the steam engine was invented here to pump water from the mines."

Notoriously windy and one of the sunniest parts of the UK, Cornwall is poised to produce all forms of renewable energy, Cato said. "The Green Industrial Revolution may be happening in what people consider the sleeping rural southwest."

It is not all simple, however. Geothermal exploration is expensive compared to oil and gas drilling and takes time to identify sites such as Porthtowan Fault, which are the carbon-neutral equivalent of reaching an oil reserve. Short-term returns are also lower.

And pumping water through granite can create micro earthquakes, a longstanding challenge for geothermal engineers. Law said choosing the right location where the rocks will be subjected to less pressure when water passed is the answer.

Other unforeseen problems may occur, such as at the Jubilee Pool drilling site. As the platform sank, it hit a huge and unexpected amount of hot water in a fracture of the rock, which prevented it from continuing. This meant that the hole would be too shallow to heat the pool on its own and would need to be supplemented with a heat pump, powered by the existing mains, which must be updated.

All of this delayed the introduction of the Jubilee Pool all-weather operation; Organizers hope this will be done next year.

"This is a big finger in the air like never before," Stuart said of the delays. But pool feasibility studies suggest that warming can attract about 3,000 extra visitors during non-summer months.

"Winter tourism is the first in Penzance and the local economy," she said. "In terms of our revenue, it can be transformational."

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