Looking for hot water: Geothermal pilot project marks new era for energy in Alberta

New funding from Alberta Innovates supports pilot project with Albertan oil and gas company.

Katie Willis - 25 February 2019

Imagine having a monthly utility bill that cost upwards of a million dollars. Now imagine that with a few minor adjustments to technology you already own, you could power your operations entirely with renewable energy.

A new project led by University of Alberta geologists aims to do just that for energy companies in Alberta, bringing geothermal technology to legacy energy infrastructure. The project is a partnership between UAlberta and a regional oil and gas company that operates in Central Alberta.

"We are looking at ways of retrofitting the entire field to produce behind-the-fence electricity to run their operations," said Jonathan Banks, research associate in the University of Alberta'sDepartment of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and lead investigator on the project. "There is potential for enormous cash savings. And if you consider the carbon tax on top of that, this starts to make profound financial sense for this company."

In the next six months, Banks and his team will install the initial heat exchange infrastructure in the field for testing. "Following this, we'll scale up over the next two years to have five megawatts of power being generated from these wellheads," he explained. "This is enough to run their entire operation."

Scaling up and out

The second element of the project is looking for future opportunities across the province to embrace this approach. "How many other oil fields in Alberta have the potential for doing this very same thing?" asked Banks. "What sort of technology is required in order to make this profitable for the province en masse?"

The research team is also looking beyond their own backyard at other oil-producing areas around the world. "We can also extrapolate this to other types of environments around the world, such as Texas, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Pakistan. We can start to look at global opportunities for this type of power," added Banks. "Fundamentally, this is an applied research project but it does open up a lot of doors for us. The University of Alberta can be a global leader in this sphere."

This pilot is made possible with new funding from Climate Change Innovation And Technology Framework (CCITF) through Alberta Innovates and through Banks' work withFuture Energy Systems.