The Case for Geothermal Facilities in the Okanagan
Geothermal is an ancient, green, renewable energy solution that pipes extremely hot water up from the Earth’s core to be used for heating and cooling or converted into electricity. In other locations across the world it has been used for radiant heating in homes, businesses, and greenhouses, and even under roads and sidewalks to melt snow.
As a result of climate change the Canadian Government has signed on to the “Paris Agreement” and committed to the “Glasgow Climate Pact” agreeing to convert our entire country to net zero energy use by the year 2050. Net zero energy use means that "our economy either emits no greenhouse gas emissions or offsets its emissions, for example, through actions such as tree planting or employing technologies that can capture carbon before it is released into the air. This is essential to keeping the world safe and livable for our kids and grandkids." (Government of Canada)
This is understandably a massive undertaking; a task few of us have seen in our lifetimes, but the future of life on this planet as we know it is in peril. Our children and grandchildren could be fighting this disaster long after we are gone and most of us don’t want to put that burden on our descendants.
To date, little more than 100,000 direct-use geothermal installations have been constructed across Canada (the geothermal well supplies energy directly to only one building). There are currently no power stations in our country that would supply enough electricity to power whole towns or cities despite the opportunities that are available.
Geothermal is only readily available for regions with tectonic plates found beneath the Earth’s surface. Lucky for us the Okanagan and any region within the Pacific Ring of Fire is ideally suited to tap into this powerful energy source to heat, cool, and energize all of our buildings, homes, and businesses.
Regions with hot springs have an advantage over those without, as they have access to the hottest subterranean fluids that are available to convert the heat into electricity. Power stations can be constructed in these locations that can carry electricity and hot or cool air very efficiently to multiple locations, communities, and buildings.
The cost to install a geothermal heat pump in your home via a “direct line well” could be greater than $10,000 but is 80-95% more cost effective month-by-month compared to the fossil fuel driven systems of the past. Once you’ve paid off the installation costs your monthly bills are substantially reduced saving you money in the long run. It will also be a great selling feature when the time comes to list your property.
To electrify our communities, power stations must be built in prime locations throughout our province. According to the Government of British Columbia, a “binary vapour cycle” would be the preferable method over others such as “dry steam” or “hot water reservoir” systems as they can function with cooler reservoir temperatures.
A binary vapour power plant pumps hot water from the Earth’s core into a heat exchanger that powers a turbine, collecting energy that is then transferred to a generator before flowing through our electrical grid distributing electricity throughout the community. The hot water can also be diverted through the turbine into a condenser before it goes back into the heat exchanger which cools the water before being pumped back into the Earth where it is released and reheated and the process continues.
Examples of binary vapour power stations in North America can be found in places such as Steamboat Springs, Nevada which now powers approximately 24,000 homes in that region since the pilot project first began in 1986. Mammoth Lakes, California is another community along the Pacific Ring of Fire that uses binary vapour power plants; once the fourth power plant is constructed this year it will power approximately 22,000 homes in that region.
While new technologies mean new investments, we must thoughtfully consider the cost of avoiding change. We’ve all experienced the floods and fires in the last few years that are now undeniably connected to the rising global temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions. There is an existential dread that permeates the younger generations that cannot be ignored anymore, as they are the league of individuals who must live the rest of their lives with the dangerous impacts of climate change. If we want to protect our children and our children’s children, the change must happen today and geothermal energy is an effective system our whole region can enjoy.