Geothermal Thinks Outside the Box
Benjamin Franklin once said if everyone is thinking alike then no one is thinking. Geothermal companies in Western Canada are starting to steam up by thinking differently on how to use energy from the earth and using local oil and gas expertise.
Background: The grounds of Western Canada are not the ideal spot to develop geothermal energy. The geothermal gradient – how quickly it gets hot below the Earth’s surface – is lower than places like Iceland and Indonesia, which are literally hotbeds for geothermal.
At lower temperatures, according to University of Alberta professor Nicholas Harris, it’s harder to generate electricity economically.
- In Alberta, up to 300 geothermal well pairs would be needed for a geothermal electricity source to match the output of a single coal-fired power plant.
The workaround: Use all that heat for something else. Canadian companies are increasingly turning to geothermal for industrial use or direct heating which extract more value from the heat compared to generating electricity.
FutEra Power, a subsidiary of Canadian oil and gas company Razor Energy, is using an innovative approach to develop geothermal. The company’s Swan Hills project uses an existing oilfield to generate electricity and power downhole pumps for oil extraction. This hot duo allows them to avoid retail electricity costs.
The Tu Deh-Kah project by the Fort Nelson First Nation is also repurposing dated oil and gas wells for geothermal use. The project will provide 7 to 15 megawatts of clean geothermal electricity in British Columbia.
Looking ahead: The 2026 World Geothermal Congress is set to take place in Calgary, so many of these innovations will no doubt be on display making Benjamin Franklin proud.