By Andru McCracken
The latest news about Valemount’s geothermal project came out of Sweden.
Swedish clean energy company Climeon (pronounced “climb on”) announced that Natural Resources Canada funded the purchase of three 150 kW Climeon Modules, which will become Canada’s first geothermal power plant once installed. Climeon modules are used to turn heat into electricity and they are revolutionizing the way geothermal projects unfold. The three modules cost 1 million euros or $1,541,000 CAD.
Alison Thompson of Borealis GeoPower said this is a key part of the “Sustainaville project.”
The project’s goal is to transform Valemount by providing locally grown food using geothermal greenhouses, micro-power for commercial uses, and heat for eco-tourism attractions such as hot pools, all with a minimal carbon footprint.
Some locals involved in geothermal power have expressed concerns that the plants have been ordered in advance of drilling, raising questions about the project, but according to Christopher Engman, Head of Sales & Marketing and Thomas Öström, Climeon’s founder and CEO, the move makes sense thanks to the modular deployment of standard units instead of a customized approach.
Öström said their innovative power generation modules create much more efficient electricity generation. Temperatures as low as 70 degrees Celsius can be used to create power efficiently, something unheard of until recently. On top of that, the systems can be configured to deal with different flows and temperature levels within hours.
“What you get is very high efficiency and this is something that you need very much for geothermal,” said Öström. “Efficiency is crucial.”
He criticised typical solutions: “There is too much steel and too little energy.”
Ultimately, if the drilling in Valemount is successful, more units can be added to increase the amount of electricity produced.
Öström said commissioning a geothermal plant used to be an extremely big job, with high consequences if something went wrong. Now, with interchangeable and mobile modules, if the well produces more energy, it is easy to add units. If the well isn’t producing as much as thought, the units can be redeployed elsewhere.
It also changes drilling strategies: a project can begin to generate revenue from power sales even after drilling a relatively low temperature well, according to a video sent by Engman.
Engman said Canada is uniquely placed to take advantage of geothermal power because of its proficiency in oil and gas and its cold climate.
“You have a tremendous amount of oil and gas people that are trained at doing the geological studies, the drilling and the pumping. You have the expertise from a sibling industry, which is unusual. You also have a vast amount of low temperature water reservoirs. More than most countries in the world, actually,” said Engman.
He said in many oil wells you find 80-90% (sometimes more) water and little oil, meaning these wells could be reused for geothermal energy production.
“Approximately every fourth well has a high enough temperature for what we do,” he said.
There are more than 400,000 oil wells in Alberta alone according to Alberta Energy Regulator.
Ready set drill
As for drilling, Thompson said Borealis GeoPower would begin as soon as they have secured all relevant permits.
Borealis, based in Calgary, has held the only geothermal exploration permits to the Canoe Reach area of Kinbasket Reservoir since 2010.
Catherine Leroux, a communications officer with Natural Resources Canada which provided funding, said the key outcomes of the project include proving the viability of a geothermal reservoir through optimized geothermal exploration techniques, drilling and well testing, as well as conducting a grid connection and power plant certification.
“The demonstration geothermal turbines will provide a concrete example of how geothermal energy can be developed in Canadian communities, with over 200 project replication sites identified for further exploration,” said Leroux.
“Operational data from the demonstrations will be used to enhance geothermal protocols aimed at reducing costs associated with geothermal development and ultimately lead to further geothermal power deployments.”
Leroux said the Borealis GeoPower Inc. geothermal power demonstration project received $1.541M from the Energy Innovation Program through a competitive call for proposals.
“Accelerating clean energy research and development is a key component of the Government of Canada’s approach to promoting sustainable economic growth and to supporting Canada’s transition towards a low-carbon economy,” said Leroux.
“By bringing this demonstration of renewable power to our country, we have the opportunity to showcase clean reliable energy generation, supporting the transition away from fossil fuels to more sustainable options,” said Jim Carr, the federal Minister of Natural Resources. “Our government is proud to support Borealis and Climeon to discover how this demonstration project may lead to further geothermal energy deployments that will help our country create a brighter future.”
The local take
Valemount Geothermal Society president Korie Marshall said she is cautiously optimistic.
“I hadn’t heard of Climeon before this news release, so I want to learn more about them,” she said.
Marshall said she’d love to know more about how the order for these three plants fit within the phases proposed by Borealis GeoPower.
“The federal government is interested in small replicable projects,” said Marshall. “It makes sense that they would want to fund small power producing plants.”