Geothermal Heat to Value
Leading the next chapter of Alberta's energy story.
We see geothermal as a natural fit for oil and gas economies.
Using Alberta's existing skills and expertise in drilling and building power infrastructure, Terrapin is proving the economics of conventional geothermal energy in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin through the Alberta No. 1 geothermal project.
Alberta No. 1
is a geothermal energy project located in the Municipal District of Greenview No. 16., south of Grande Prairie.
We're excited to be developing Alberta's first conventional geothermal energy facility.
Constant, clean energy.
The Alberta No. 1 geothermal project is expected to generate 10 MW of baseload power, and 985 TJ/year of baseload heat.
That's enough to power 2,500 homes and heat 30 acres of greenhouses.
This is the first step in building a robust geothermal energy industry in the province.
Developed from a 2019 interview with our Chief Geologist.
Last revised: June 2021
Where is the geothermal industry at in Canada?
In comparison to the rest of the world, Canada’s geothermal industry is in its infancy. As Canadians, we are incredibly thankful to have significant oil and gas resources and hydropower - but these resources are not conducive to the development of a geothermal industry.
In the 1970s, there was a global oil crisis. With escalating costs and a fear that we would run out of oil, many countries were looking at alternatives for power generation and heating. This sparked great enthusiasm for geothermal projects.
By the 1980s, the oil crisis was over, and the impetus for geothermal was essentially gone. As time went on, entering the mid to late 2000s, the price of oil skyrocketed again, causing another quest for alternative energy sources which benefited geothermal projects.
Both geothermal rushes were in response to global oil and gas prices. At present day, here in Alberta, most of us heat our homes with natural gas. It’s cheap and plentiful, so people ask, why do we need geothermal? It has taken a change in the total perspective of society and an interest in sustainability and environmental factors to turn this around. As educated consumers, we now ask, “where is this heat coming from? Is there a cleaner alternative?”
Hydrocarbons have important chemical properties that are not reproducible in other ways, making it well-suited for unique uses outside of energy - let’s keep hydrocarbons for what they are uniquely suited for, and diversify and build resiliency in our heat and power sources with geothermal energy.
What are the applications of geothermal resources?
Geothermal as a resource can be used for both heating and electricity. What many do not necessarily understand is the energy needed for heating, and how thermal energy from geothermal resources meets that need.
With geothermal, the opportunities do not stop at clean electricity production. Geothermal can also be useful for energy-intensive heating purposes, such as:
Fruit and vegetable drying
Soil warming and sterilization
Snow melting and de-icing roads and sidewalks
Building heating and cooling
Heating for industrial processes
Hot springs pools
Water heating (bathhouses, saunas)
Heating recreation centres
Pulp and paper processing
In a cold country like Canada, where the average temperature is 1°C, geothermal is more important in terms of its thermal capacity - its ability to heat things - than it is in terms of its electrical capacity. We need heat! More than 60% of our energy needs is actually spent on heating. Compared to other energy sources, geothermal is the only clean resource that is capable of effectively heating and providing electricity on a massive scale.
How does geothermal energy work?
Heat is found in rocks deep underground. When these rocks have naturally occurring water (in the form of hot salty water, aka brine), this water can be pumped to surface to create electricity and supply heat to process and places that need it. Geothermal energy is the only renewable resource that can provide baseload (constant) heat and power!
To run a geothermal energy facility:
A developer first conducts a desktop investigation to identify a geothermal resource that is more than 100°C and between 2000 to 4000 metres in depth.
They then drill a well to confirm the geothermal resource.
If the brine is hot enough for the intended purpose, an additional large diameter well will be drilled to complete the doublet.
Upon successful testing, the remainder of the geothermal wellfield is drilled out and a power facility is established.
For a binary power plant like Alberta No. 1, hot brine is pumped to surface and the thermal energy is extracted to another working fluid through a heat exchanger. This working fluid produces a vapour when heated, which drives an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) turbine to generate electricity.
The residual thermal energy from the brine after the heat to power conversion can be put through another heat exchanger to transfer that thermal energy into a district heat network.
After useful work is completed, the geothermal brine is cycled back underground through an injection well, where it will heat up again over time.
Drilling and completion process is nearly identical to that of the oil and gas industry!
What are the implications of geothermal energy?
Environmentally, the extraction of geothermal energy has one of the lowest impacts of any of the renewable energy sources: it requires much less surface area per megawatt (see diagram); it does not impact surface water and freshwater reservoirs, nor oil and gas resources; it does not create greenhouse gas emissions; and it is available 24/7, 365 days a year. The constant (baseload) generation of clean electricity and heat can be a major contributor in lowering Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning the nation to a resilient and sustainable energy mix.
Comparison of Surface Area Utilization of Energy Sources
Economically, harnessing geothermal energy can be one of the employment drivers in Canada's energy sector. The drilling of geothermal wells and the maintenance of power plants can be done with many of the skills and technical expertise gained from decades as energy leaders in oil and gas.
Many industries in Canada require heating for buildings and industrial processing. Heating is energy- and capital-intensive. Geothermal can offset this high energy demand and cost with large-scale district heating systems.
With multiple applications for geothermal, such as drying for crops, aquaculture, and heating for greenhouses and infrastructure, this heat and energy resource can attract investment and economic development to a region.
What is Geothermal Canada?
Terrapin is proud to be a member of industry association Geothermal Canada alongside other Canadian geothermal companies.
The Canadian Geothermal Association, rebranded in 2018 as Geothermal Canada, was founded in 1974. The impetus for the founding came from the inaugural Geothermal Resources Council meeting in Brawley, California in 1973. A professional organization wanting to share technology, resources, and experiences, Geothermal Canada is not a lobby group but a scientifically oriented venue for discussion of technical and academic aspects of the industry. Geothermal Canada seeks to provide expertise to all interested parties and further geothermal collaboration and innovation in Canada.
About Dr. Catherine Hickson
Dr. Catherine Hickson, P.Geo, is the Chief Geologist of Terrapin Geothermics, a Canadian energy project development and engineering firm. Dr. Hickson leads all geotechnical work for Terrapin, providing industry knowledge and expertise for Alberta No. 1, Alberta's first conventional geothermal energy facility.
Dr. Hickson's project highlights encompass greenfield exploration in eight countries, and discovery of geothermal resources (320 MW, inferred) and operating plants, including Soda Lake 15 MWe), Svartsengi (75 MWe) and Reykjanes (100 MWe).
Dr. Hickson is also the Vice President of Geothermal Canada, an organization founded in 1974 to assist Canadians and Canadian companies in the development of geothermal resources nationally and globally.