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Article   |   Matt Rothnie   |   11.04.2022

Breaking new ground

Amongst the challenges that will need addressing as the transition to sustainable energy progresses is bringing numerous components of renewable power together in one, cohesive, network. Knowing where the skills and expertise to implement such widespread changes to power grids will be drawn from is part two of the same conundrum.

Matt Rothnie, SVP Senergy Wells & ModuSpec discusses how the skills needed for the sector to prosper are already found in other areas of the energy sector, and why the transfer of knowledge has enabled the company to break new ground during the past year.

2021 will be remembered for many reasons. One of the main ones, aside from the ongoing pandemic, is the acceleration of global discussions addressing climate change, in which the energy matrix has a key role to play.

COP26, in November, went some way towards answering some of the issues faced by organisations and communities worldwide as the transition gathers pace. However, the granular practicalities of building a sustainable energy network are perhaps not as clear.

To shed some light on where this clarity could be found, let’s take a look at the rapidly growing geothermal market. The sector’s growth has been driven by increasingly ambitious net-zero targets, linking directly to COP26, as well as a better understanding of what the technology offers in terms of efficiencies and supply security.

Though it is considered a relative newcomer to the energy market, geothermal energy is not a new concept. Even some of the processes involved are not dissimilar to those used in the more established sectors such as oil & gas. In principle, a geothermal well – which draws hot water and steam for the generation of electricity – can be constructed using the same project management, well construction process and engineering used in the oil & gas wells on and offshore Europe.

That means there is already a pool of specialists with the skills required to extract geothermal energy to draw on already, if they are given the proper training to aid them in their transition that is.

And let us not forget that environmental considerations are more fundamental to energy extraction than ever before – the insights and capabilities of surveying teams, essential in the construction of offshore and onshore pipeline networks, can again be called upon here to assess the implications of working a particular location.

Perhaps one of the less obvious but certainly crucial in the development of geothermal energy, and which has also enabled us at Vysus Group to forge a path into this developing market, is risk management. Again, we can look to the oil and gas sector for answers.

As a starting point, the hot water and steam required for the geothermal energy are obtained from wells in much the same way that oil and gas are extracted from reserves. Reliable operation of a geothermal well, therefore, requires expertise in areas in drilling for example and a team that has the technical knowledge to operate the specialist equipment used here. Then, of course, comes the management of the facility itself.

In any energy project, geothermal or otherwise, risk management is a key process upon which everything else hinges. Because of the diverse and continuous nature of geothermal energy production, the construction of the wells needs to be completed and maintained in a way that accounts for various influences not dissimilar to those found in the working conditions of a gas pipeline for example.

‘Risk’ is quite a broad term with multiple strands to it. While there are unique areas to manage according to a project’s individual characteristics, a range of aspects, from scenario modelling to carrying out initial surveys of the ground before it is worked on, interlap between geothermal and oil & gas certainly exists in more than one respect.

A good example of this is the famous Eden Project in Cornwall, UK, recognisable by its dome-shaped biomes. Part of the project included the drilling of two 4.5km deep geothermal wells and an electricity plant which heats the facility’s offices, greenhouses, and the biomes themselves. Such an extensive project naturally requires specialist expertise, namely in health & safety, environmental protection, and other regulatory requirements not dissimilar to those deployed across multiple areas of the energy industry.

Like all geothermal projects, Eden began its life with a safety and environmental management system (SEMS), which outlined areas such as emergency response, specialist risk assessment techniques, verification assurance, and training and competence. By no means a final list, the SEMS is an example of the relationship between project developers and the technical capabilities of third-party consultancies. Given that each SEMS mirrors aspects of the already internally-recognised ISO 45001 mark of quality, it is not inconceivable that skillsets from multiple industries can be utilised in bringing projects such as Eden to fruition.

Amongst the various discussions at COP26, infrastructure was one of the hot topics. Questions persist on whether current emissions targets are attainable with the energy grid structures currently in place across the world and whether alternative sources will be compatible with these grids. There is no straightforward answer to that particular hurdle – yet – but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ideas out there.

If we take geothermal as an example again, large-scale plants tend to be built along the same or at least similar specifications to those currently powering our towns and cities – the main difference is that no additional heat is required during generation, given that the Earth’s natural heat replenishes itself. The process is responsible for generating around a quarter of the total electricity production of Iceland, showing that under the right conditions, geothermal energy can be a vital component in an energy matrix.

They might initially be viewed as separate entities, but all forms of renewable energy production have a part in the framework we as a global community are striving towards. And with calls for acceleration continuing to echo on all sides of the debate, closing up the gaps between each source and the cohesive sharing of skills will continue to be essential.

Having acquired Senergy in 2013, Vysus Group brings more than 20 years of combined experience of drilling expertise and best practice for geothermal projects across the globe.

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