Abstract

The idea of Deep Geothermal Single Well (DGSW) heat production has existed for many years, but with no consensus regarding its potential applicability: proponents have made claims regarding thermal outputs that appear exaggerated, whereas detractors have stated that the concept can never be economic unless the capital cost of drilling has already been discounted. However, because this technology offers the potential of delivering geothermal heat projects ‘off the shelf’ with a minimum of site-dependent research, the possibility exists of achieving cost-effective solutions. The present study sets out to investigate this topic subject to environmental and subsidy regimes applicable in the UK; the results might also be useful for other jurisdictions. Under these conditions, the variant of the technology with greatest potential for cost-effectiveness is the hcDGSW, or conductive DGSW with heat production via heat pump. Analytical modelling enables the physics of the heat-exchange processes within a hcDGSW to be approximated. It is thus established that this option can indeed be cost-effective under the current UK subsidy regime for deep geothermal heat, provided boreholes are deep enough and in localities where the geothermal gradient is high enough. The environmentally optimum operational mode (optimizing savings in CO2e emissions) involves heat production at a lower rate than the economically optimum mode (maximizing profit). If such projects are subsidized from public funds, a particular operational mode might be specified, maybe as a compromise between these optima. After the 20-year duration of the subsidy, the technology might well no longer be economic, but the infrastructure might be easily repurposed for seasonal heat storage, thus offering the potential of making a significant long-term contribution to sustainable future heat supply. These preliminary results indicate that more detailed appraisal of this technology variant is warranted.

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