There is a window of opportunities for geothermal energy in Bulgaria
Interview with Dr. Juliet Newson, President of the International Geothermal Association and Speaker at EE & RE Conference
It is known that Bulgaria ranks first in Europe in terms of geothermal potential per capita, but it is little applied in practice. What recommendations would you give to change the situation?
We are aware of a number of geothermal resource uses in Bulgaria. The town of Velingrad for example is known for its hot and cold mineral springs which are used for heating and balneology.
As the temperature of geothermal wells in the country ranges between 20°C - 100°C direct use applications are most appropriate. North-East Bulgaria (Moesian plate) and South Bulgaria (Rila-Rhodopes massif) host most of the geothermal resources. Direct thermal water use in Bulgaria concentrates on balneology (largest share with 60%), space heating, air-conditioning, greenhouses, ground source heat pumps, direct thermal water supply, bottling of potable water and soft drinks and for some technological processes.
Bulgaria's energy mix traditionally consists of coal (about 50%) and nuclear (36%). There is a window of opportunities for geothermal energy in the country, particularly in use of heat. As far as we are aware no governmental incentives are provided to geothermal developers. In terms of the regulatory environment, support for the municipalities to build capacity in geothermal resource assessment and management would increase the confidence of investors. Also, awareness raising for decision makers, potential investors and the public would improve the situation.
What are the advantages of geothermal energy in comparison to the other alternative energy sources?
It provides secure and reliable heat and power 24/7 and depends neither on weather conditions, nor day/night. As soon as the resource/ reservoir is defined and a sustainable resource use plan established it can be used forever. By using geothermal resources consumers become more independent from purchasing expensive and climate-unfriendly fossil fuels. Using the heat directly from the geothermal fluid is very efficient; much more so than using electrical energy for heating. A properly designed system for harvesting geothermal energy should also be able to ‘cascade’ the fluid use. This means that after the highest-temperature use of the fluid, there is another process which requires use of a lower temperature fluid, and so on until all the useful heat is taken.
Diverse direct use applications also make developments more possible in regions where otherwise developments would be much more expensive (i.e. greenhouses). Balneology has many positive health implications and attracts visitors to regions which would otherwise not receive tourists. Thereby, the regional economies and employment are stimulated with minimum ecological, visible, and climate impacts.
Tell us more about trends and good examples that can be applied in the region of South-East Europe?
Geothermal district heating systems are very popular in Europe with the largest system in the Paris area. District heating systems which include geothermal resources can also be found in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Germany and others. A transition can also be noticed regarding Ground Source Heat Pumps and their uses in new areas like Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Often, the emphasis here is on cooling and heating with a growing demand for more comfort in houses.
Similar to Bulgaria greenhouse projects also exist in Macedonia (i.e. Istibanja/ Vinica or Kocani/ Podlog). Romania uses about 96 geothermal wells with 35 being used exclusively for balneology.
In Sweden governmental subsidies were provided between 1981 and 1991 for installations in single and multifamily houses. These were loans, cash contributions, and income tax reductions. The subsidies triggered the heat pumps sales to increase.
The legislative and regulatory framework for geothermal energy is very diverse within the EU member states, and in some cases is a real barrier to geothermal energy use. There are countries with barriers of fiscal nature (i.e. mining royalty, sewage penalty, groundwater use fee, environmental tax). Challenges include for example royalties e.g. in France, Hungary, Poland, Romania. Geothermal resources often are subject to Mining Law whereas the production of geothermal fluids from the shallow subsurface is generally regulated by Water use legislation.
Heat supply from geothermal energy in Europe is primarily done by using hot water from aquifers. Shallow geothermal also supports the use of solar energy for heating, through underground storage of solar heat from summertime until its use in winter, and offers many other opportunities of long-term thermal energy storage.
IGA representatives attended the climate summit in Paris. What conclusions have been made and what is the role of geothermal energy in the context of climate change?
The COP21 clearly showed that transitioning rapidly to a future fueled by renewable energy is the most effective way to decarbonize economies. Countries representing more than 90% of the global economy submitted pledges (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) to the UNFCCC Secretariat prior to the COP, demonstrating their intention to reduce their national emissions. Most position papers on nationally determined contributions announced the increased use of renewable energy technologies.
The COP also showed that strategic technology focused alliances or North-South/ South-South alliances can help to overcome technical, financial and other barriers. On 7 December 2015 the Energy Day was celebrated in Paris. In the morning, the IRENA Director General and the President of Iceland officially launched the IRENA Global Geothermal Alliance. Shortly afterwards, the REN Alliance session showcased practical case studies from around the world how renewables can work together. The IGA collaborates with the REN Alliance and the Global Geothermal Alliance and thereby aims to address policy and investment challenges in order to rapidly expand geothermal resource use. Both events clearly show that the voice of geothermal is being brought to the attention of UN decision makers, ministers and the wider community. Geothermal energy plays an important role in the energy transition due to its diverse uses for heating/ cooling, electricity generation, agricultural drying processes, balneology, etc.
Various COP21 events at the Nordic Pavilion on geothermal use in Iceland, East Africa and elsewhere showed the importance of geothermal energy. Countries like Iceland with its impressive geothermal and hydro resources and the island El Hierro (Canary Island) with wind and hydro resources showcase how 100% renewable energy systems operate successfully.