Britain’s deep coal mines have become a surprising source of green energy, one that’s been heating the town of Gateshead successfully for 6 months.
The scheme is believed to be replicable in areas with extensive abandoned mine works, and offers a kind of renewable redemption for a nation with a long history of dirty energy.
Gateshead Council’s mine water project launched in March 2023 and now has a large central heat pump that provides low-carbon heating to 350 high-rise buildings, an art gallery, a college, an industrial park, and several office buildings.
As oil and gas gradually replaced coal, Britain’s hundreds of miles of coal mining tunnels were gradually abandoned over the decades. Inundated by flood waters that became heated by the Earth’s core, Britain suddenly had a semi-naturally occurring geothermal energy source to harvest.
At certain depths, mine water can sit at over 100° Fahrenheit, or precisely 45°C. The renewable energy use here involves pumping the water into home heat pumps which further raises the temperature.
The super-hot mine water then heats the interior space and home water supply. After the heat is expended the water is sent back down to the mine where it’s naturally reheated. Huge advantages come with this kind of heating, including the fact that the water isn’t affected by the winter or the summer, and the water can also be used to cool homes.
“Recovering heat from mine water below the ground within abandoned coal mines provides an exciting opportunity to generate a low carbon, secure supply of heat, benefitting people living or working in buildings on the coalfields,” Gareth Farr, head of heat and by-product innovation at the Coal Authority, told Euronews.
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The authority owns and manages the disused coal-mining infrastructure on behalf of the UK government, and their water resources amount to about two billion cubic meters, or half the amount of water in Loch Ness.
“With many millions of people living upon abandoned coalfields in Great Britain, the potential for mine water heat could be significant.”
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While the Gateshead project is the largest in Europe, it’s not the only such setup, nor was it the first. Reclaimed coal mine water projects for heating have been established in The Netherlands and Spain, as well as across the Atlantic in Canada.
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