The Hague region is transforming into the epicentre for geothermal energy
February 28, 2022
The Hague region is transforming into the epicentre for geothermal energy
The energy transition is all about wind farms in the North Sea, solar power stations in Flevoland and connecting sustainable energy sources to the overcrowded network. Meanwhile, a cluster of activities is developing in The Hague around an alternative energy source: geothermal energy.
Sustainable energy generally evokes images of windmills and solar panels. After all, they are the most visible. Although wind and sun make a substantial contribution to the energy transition, there are also less conspicuous energy sources that will play a significant role. According to experts, geothermal energy, in which heat is extracted from underground layers, is a game-changer.
“Geothermal energy has the potential to supply half of the global heat and a quarter of the electricity,” said Marit Brommer, executive director of the International Geothermal Association based in The Hague. But, she immediately adds: “For that, we need to overcome a number of obstacles.”
Because wind and the sun are at the forefront of renewable energy sources, geothermal energy is often forgotten. Wrongly, says Brommer: “We have to conquer a place worldwide in the plans of governments, analysts and non-governmental organizations. Because geothermal energy can play an important role in the energy transition.”
For the municipality of The Hague, geothermal energy is a significant sustainable energy source. “The ambition to be climate neutral by 2040 requires an enormous effort,” says Liesbeth van Tongeren, alderman for Sustainability, Environment and Energy Transition. “We can’t do that with solar and wind energy alone. For The Hague, geothermal energy is an essential source in the sustainable energy mix of the future.” While wind and solar energy are specifically essential for making the electricity supply more sustainable, geothermal energy plays a valuable role in supplying sustainable heat. “Without geothermal energy, it will be challenging to eliminate gas from homes,” says Van Tongeren.
With the Haagse Aardwarmte – Leyweg (The Hague Geothermal Energy – Leyweg) project, geothermal energy is now a reality in The Hague. Since January, the Haagse Aardwarmte company has been operating its first geothermal installation there. They drilled an aquifer at a depth of 2 kilometres which produces water with a temperature of 70 to 80 degrees. “We took over the project in 2016,” says Jan Willem Rösingh from Haagse Aardwarmte. “The wells were already there. We have completed the above-ground installations. We have been operational since December 2021.” Rösingh says that two thousand home equivalents are connected to the geothermal network. “We meet approximately 50% of the heat demand. The rest is still gas-fired,” says Rösingh. “In principle, this project can ultimately supply heat for four thousand homes”.
While the project on the Leyweg will slowly but surely connect more houses, The Haagse Aardwarmte is working on various new initiatives. “The Hague region is very suitable for geothermal energy,” explains Rösingh. “Because of previous oil and gas extractions, the subsurface has been mapped very well geologically. Underneath The Hague region lies an aquifer of a 100 meters thick sandstone. The water temperature in the so-called Delft sandstone layer is 70 to 80 degrees. It is extremely suitable for geothermal energy.”
The potential is considerable. Rösingh: “In The Hague, the heat demand is 17 petajoules per year. It is expected that 12 to 14 petajoules will remain due to insulation measures. Geothermal energy can supply about a quarter of that demand.” It is essential for the success of geothermal energy that there is a heat network to homes and office buildings. “We depend on the presence of heat networks so we can connect the geothermal installations.” These heat networks are especially suitable for neighbourhoods with apartment buildings or where houses are close to each other. “Villa neighbourhoods are difficult to connect to a heat network.”
Rösingh is not sure about the potential in other municipalities. “We know too little about the subsurface in the Netherlands to accurately estimate the potential of geothermal energy. Geologically, the link between Amsterdam and Arnhem has not been sufficiently mapped out.”
For The Hague, geothermal energy is not only a sustainable alternative to natural gas. The city also has the ambition to develop into a centre for geothermal energy. Just as Aberdeen in Scotland is a significant centre for offshore oil and gas exploration and production, The Hague should become a magnet for all things geothermal. The combination of knowledge institutions, industry and financing should lead to economic opportunities for the region.
The establishment of the International Geothermal Association in The Hague in 2021 was an important milestone. But the Rijswijk Center for Sustainable Geo-energy (RCSG) in Rijswijk, where companies can test their innovations, is also a unique facility. This innovation lab is located in Shell’s former drilling research and test centre in Rijswijk.
The startup Canopus Drilling Solutions is one of the companies testing their technology in the RCSG. Canopus is working on a technology that enables horizontal drilling at a depth of 2 kilometres. And that is important, explains CEO Diederik Wawoe: “If you find an aquifer at such a depth, you should not drill through it vertically, because then you can pump less warm water up. If you drill through it horizontally, you can get larger volumes out of it. With our drilling technology, geothermal projects can be made profitable more quickly.”
Horizontal drilling has been commonplace in the oil industry for years. But the technology used by oil companies is too expensive and therefore not suitable for geothermal energy. Canopus uses steel grains when drilling. “Compare it to sandblasting,” says Wawoe. “Only we don’t use sand but steel grains to drill the hole. Those granules are collected and reused each time.”
What makes the technology of Canopus unique is that the drill head can be steered, and can therefore precisely follow the aquifer. “The technology is ready,” Wawoe says. “Now, we are going to make a working prototype. We will use this to carry out test drilling at several locations in the Netherlands. We are grateful for having the opportunity to use the test centre in Rijswijk for this.”
Technological breakthroughs are valuable to enable the growth of geothermal energy. “Geothermal energy must become mainstream and therefore cheaper,” says Brommer from the International Geothermal Association. “That is necessary to become competitive with other renewable energy sources.”
The founder of Canopus Drilling Solutions Jan Jette Blangé (left) and Diederik Wawoe (right) at a drilling installation of the Rijswijk Centre for Sustainable Geo Energy from TNO. Picture: de Schaapjesfabriek (©)
But according to Brommer, more things are needed for a breakthrough in geothermal energy. “In the first place, legislation must allow drilling and the use of geothermal energy.” At least as significant is the financing of geothermal energy projects. Drilling a well is an expensive business, and there is always the risk of not finding hot water. “Oil companies have the financial strength and scale to bear that risk,” says Brommer. “There are still few parties in geothermal energy that are prepared to take that risk.” To cover those risks, governments and banks must play their part, believes Brommer.
Finally, according to the IGA director, cooperation is needed between all parties involved. For example, to connect geothermal sources to existing or new heat networks. “Who delivers the final heat supply? Who integrates the different sources? Which rates are chargeable? Those questions have not yet fully crystallized,” said Brommer.
But The Hague region is working on all fronts to outgrow the status of a test site and become the centre for geothermal energy. “We have the ambition to expand IGA firmly in The Hague,” explains Brommer. “We want to be the centre for geothermal energy in the world. Where best practices are devised and shared, and where policy is made. In this way, we can give geothermal energy an enormous boost.”
Rösingh from Haagse Aardwarmte sees the winds of change in the regional attitude. “We already receive a lot of support from the municipality. There are weekly consultations. I notice that everyone is convinced it is important to get geothermal energy off the ground.” According to Rösingh, this breeding ground has a positive effect on activities related to geothermal energy.
“The momentum in The Hague is huge,” says Wawoe from Canopus Drilling Solutions. “When you talk to people in The Hague about geothermal energy, you notice that there is a lot of knowledge, interest and support. People make connections quickly, which means that developments go faster.”
And that is exactly what The Hague wants to be: the worldwide centre for geothermal energy. Alderman for Economy Saskia Bruines is, therefore, rolling out the red carpet for innovative companies that want to establish themselves in The Hague region. “ImpactCity The Hague offers support on many fronts: office space, support for expats, access to financing, and help with creating visibility. And we encourage cooperation between companies and knowledge institutions. Not only in the field of energy but also when it comes to matters such as data analysis and legislation,” says Bruines. “Geothermal energy is not only an indispensable part of the energy transition. It is also an economic opportunity for The Hague. It brings prosperity and employment to the region.”