The EU-supported Minewater project opened the world's first mine-water power station in the Netherlands in October 2008 to highlight the geothermal energy potential of water in old mines.
Minewater set out to develop a geothermal power station exploiting water in abandoned mines in the town of Heerlen – at the heart of a Dutch coal-mining area that closed its last mine in the 1970s. The objective was to show that such mines offer the potential to supply ‘green’ energy for municipal heating and cooling applications. In addition, it was hoped that this initiative would highlight the associated environmental and employment benefits.
Set up in 2005, the project involves seven European partners including municipalities, building research institutes and housing associations, and has received strong financial support from the EU. The concept was developed by local government energy management coordinator Elianne Demollin-Schneiders, who recognised the geothermal energy potential of the city's mine water. She received the support of the mayor's office in the municipality of Heerlen to implement the pilot project.
Organisations from France, Germany and the UK backed the innovative concept and supported Heerlen as the lead city. Additional assistance came in the form of funding from the EU with 48% of the €20 million costs coming from the Interreg IIIB NWE programme, part of the EU Cohesion Policy that channels investment from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) into the economic, environmental, social and territorial future of North West Europe.
The power station consists of two sites in the centre and north of Heerlen. Work began in March 2005 when two 825-m wells were drilled at Heerlerheide to access trapped mine water at a temperature of 35°C. Three wells were then drilled at Stadpark Oranje Nassau, ranging from 250- to 500-m deep. These shallower wells receive the Heelerheide water after it has been used for heating. This water will then be stored until needed for cooling.
Project partner Weller housing association constructed 200 houses, shops, offices, a library and a supermarket in the area between the two mine sites. All the buildings contain heating and cooling systems designed to run on energy from the mine water. Calculations estimate that the concept offers a 55% CO2 reduction. “We believe the mine-water power station will provide the proof that the concept works,” says local alderman Riet de Wit.
Iceland is a world leader in the use of geothermal power because of its special geological situation with a high concentration of volcanoes. In 2006, 26.5% of electricity generation in Iceland came from geothermal energy, 73.4% from hydro power and 0.1% from fossil fuels. Icelandic authorities say that around 100 other countries around the world have the same geographic advantage. The inexpensive and sustainable energy however is a mixed blessing. The cheap power has attracted heavy industry, including melting plants which now ship materials to Iceland for treatment and then ship it back to customers worldwide.
European Geothermal Energy Council (EGEC): http://www.egec.org/