Geothermal in Poland: Potential and challenges of geothermal energy development in the heating industry

geotermia

Geothermal, or the use of thermal energy stored deep in the Earth, is one of the least used sources of renewable energy in Poland. Despite the huge potential, the development of this field has not been very dynamic in our country. Lengthy investment processes, risks and some technological challenges stand in the way of fully utilizing this green form of energy.

Geothermal – the heat energy of the earth

Geothermal energy is the Earth’s internal heat, which accumulates in rocks and the waters that fill fractures and rock pores. It represents a kind of renewable energy, since its source – the hot interior of our planet – is virtually unlimited. Natural processes inside the Earth, especially in the lithospheric layer, cause the temperature to rise as you go deeper into it.

Geothermal energy is an extremely promising renewable source. Unlike solar or wind power, it is independent of seasons and weather conditions. This means that it can provide a stable and constant supply of energy. In addition, it interferes very little with the environment and does not emit harmful substances into the atmosphere.

Conditions for geothermal development in Poland

Many experts believe that Poland has great potential for geothermal energy. Geological studies indicate that up to a quarter of our country’s land area has conditions for extracting thermal water for heating. The areas that can be considered prospective are mainly located in the Polish Lowlands and Podhale. They have a good understanding of hydrogeological conditions, which greatly reduces investment risks. The water temperature for these areas ranges from 30°C to 130°C, while the depth of occurrence in sedimentary rocks ranges from 1 to 10 km.

It is worth noting that regions with optimal geothermal conditions often coincide with highly populated, heavily industrialized or agricultural areas. Cities such as Warsaw, Poznan, Szczecin, Lodz, Torun and Plock are located in areas rich in geothermal water energy.

Use of geothermal energy on a small scale

To date, the use of geothermal energy for heating, despite its enormous geological potential, has been on an insignificant scale in Poland. There are only seven operating geothermal heat plants serving central heating networks. The first was established in Bańska Niżna (1993, Lesser Poland Voivodeship), followed by Pyrzyce (1996, West Pomeranian Voivodeship), Mszczonów (1999, Mazovian Voivodeship), Uniejów (2001, Lodz Voivodeship), Stargard (2005, West Pomeranian Voivodeship), Poddębice (2013, Lodz Voivodeship) and in 2022. in Torun (Kujawsko-Pomorskie voivodeship).

Construction of other heating plants is underway in Sieradz (Lodz Voivodeship), Konin and Kole (Greater Poland Voivodeship). These are projects in the final stages of implementation and will be put into operation during the upcoming heating season.

In turn, the investment in Szaflary, near Zakopane, is at the initial stage. Drilling of the deepest geothermal well in the world has just begun there – the target depth is 7 km. The work will be carried out continuously, seven days a week, in two shifts, and is expected to last until mid-2024.

The drilling is aimed at discovering a new thermal water reservoir. It is expected to find water with temperatures in excess of 150°C, much higher than in other intakes in Poland. The purpose of using the water from the new well will be primarily to heat buildings in the Szaflary and Nowy Targ municipalities. It is also being considered for use in electricity generation. However, time will tell whether the assumptions of the geological work will work out in reality.

Challenges for local governments

In recent years, interest in Polish cities and municipalities in using geothermal water for heating has been growing. They see the benefits of this kind of investment. If only to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and reduce energy costs for households, businesses and institutions. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants is also an undeniable advantage, improving the quality of life for residents. Nevertheless, many do not undertake such ventures due to the high economic risk.

Decisions on the exploration of thermal water deposits are made under conditions of uncertainty in the geological parameters and economic values of the deposit. Practically, until a borehole is drilled, the exact values of such parameters as temperature, water mineralization or potential yield of the intake are not known. On the other hand, projects already at this stage of work require millions of dollars in funding. Only in practice can the value of the exploitation parameters of the captured waters be assessed, and thus the profitability of the investment. Thus, in the situation of obtaining resources with inferior parameters or not obtaining them, municipalities risk large financial losses.

Directions for supporting geothermal

In recent years, government institutions such as the Ministry of Climate and Environment and the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management have been taking steps to increase interest in geothermal.

In 2022. The Ministry of Climate and Environment, in conjunction with the National Geological Institute-Public Research Institute (PGI-PIB) and the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management (NFOŚiGW), has made it possible for local government units to receive free opinions on the occurrence and development of thermal waters in selected locations. The project has received a lot of attention, as it is scheduled to run from August 11, 2021. Through August 31, 2022. A total of 218 municipalities asked for such an assessment.

The opinion includes an analysis of the current state of geothermal exploration and the possibility of using thermal waters. In addition, it pointed out possible conflicts that could hinder the implementation of the investment and assessed the geothermal potential for heating.

The National Environmental Protection and Water Management Fund has allocated specific financial support for the development of geothermal in Poland. There are currently two, related priority programs that focus on the use of geothermal energy. The first of these is a program called “Making thermal waters available in Poland.” It provides support at the stage of geological work related to the exploration and prospecting of thermal water deposits in order to make them available. The second program is “Poland Geothermal Plus,” which aims to increase the use of geothermal resources in Poland. Offers support for projects in the following areas: construction of a new and expansion or modernization of an existing geothermal heat/electric power plant/geothermal power plant, based on a geothermal source.

The activities undertaken under these programs are certainly an important step toward increasing the use of geothermal in Poland. Supporting research, investment and infrastructure construction is key to developing this promising branch of renewable energy in our country.

Despite the challenges, geothermal has the potential to become a viable and sustainable source of energy in Poland. Investment costs can be offset by cost-effective operation, and a sustainable supply of thermal energy will increase independence from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the progress of geothermal in Poland requires further financial support, technology development and appropriate regulations that would favor investors.

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