Pilot project in geothermal energy comes to Hinton, AB

Alternative energy systems the next hottest thing in Alberta

Katie Willis - 18 September 2017

A UAlberta research partnership to retrofit wells near Hinton has the potential to provide megawatts of power to the local community.

It's the latest project to investigate the use of geothermal energy.

"We pump hot water from underground using wells, use the heat to create power, and then inject the cooled water back into the ground at another local site, where it will heat up again," explained Jonathan Banks, research associate in the University of Alberta's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

A hot topic

"Alberta is at a huge advantage for getting started without the very steep and expensive learning curve other places are facing." -Jonathan Banks

Geothermal energy is the next hot thing in Alberta, with the potential to leverage a clean, renewable resource and fuel a new, sustainable industry. And this emerging energy source has the advantage of using the same infrastructure as the oil and gas industry.

"We'll use the same infrastructure, the same expertise, the same service providers, and the same software," said Banks. "It's really just a matter of retooling and retraining the capacity that we already have. Alberta is at a huge advantage for getting started without the very steep and expensive learning curve other places are facing."

With his colleagues, Banks is working on reservoir modeling that makes geothermal energy projects possible by finding reservoirs, determining their thermodynamic properties, and modeling fluid flow.

Community impact

For this project, Banks and his research team partnered with Epoch Energy.

"The idea is to take a three-pronged approach: resource development, production, and community impact," explained Banks. "I'm focused on the geology, but our group will tackle all angles, from economics to social issues to engineering challenges."

Long-term, the project has the potential to provide hundreds of megawatts of power to the community using geothermal energy.

Banks' project in the Faculty of Science is underway in collaboration with faculties of Engineering, Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, and the Alberta School of Business, with funding from Future Energy Systems.

Future Energy Systems is a $75 million, 7-year research program at the University of Alberta funded through the Government of Canada's Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). The programs develops the energy technologies of the near future, examines their integration into current infrastructure, and considers their social, economic, and environmental impacts. The program also contributes to the development of solutions for the challenges presented by current energy technologies.