28/01/2021 - Renewables
by Alvaro Rodriguez and Pierre-Etienne Bougon
The Earth is constantly radiating heat from radioactive decay.
By harvesting this underground heat, geothermal plants can produce continuous power all year round, making geothermal energy the only baseload and dispatchable renewable energy source.
It all started in Larderello, Italy, more than 100 years ago, when steam from a geothermal well was used to light four bulbs. Since then, geothermal power has been steadily developing, both for electrical power generation and for direct use: district heating, green house heating, heat for industrial processes, etc.
Despite their high potential, geothermal resources remain largely untapped. But recently, calls to decarbonize our economy have led to renewed interest in geothermal power. A number of countries have developed policies and methods to take advantage of this inexhaustible, clean and safe source of energy.
Some countries such as Turkey and Indonesia are heavily investing in geothermal, developing new capacities. As development relies on expertise similar to that needed for Oil & Gas (exploration, drilling, well completion) some majors, keen to diversify, are joining the race. On top of this, small start-ups and tech companies are coming up with innovations to de-risk geothermal development. Taken together, these trends are paving the way for a geothermal decade.
Geothermal, then, has extensive room for growth but still faces significant challenges. Vallourec’s cutting edge expertise combined with a wide range of tubular products and services are perfectly suited to tackle these challenges head on.
From high costs to environmental impact
Cost is by far the leading challenge for geothermal development. Like their oil and gas counterparts, geothermal projects are extremely capital-intensive, with a longer payback and lower profitability than oil and gas projects. Drilling can easily represent half of the total cost of a geothermal project, especially in areas with complex geology and hydrogeology , and/or in remote areas with expensive logistics.
On top of this, project developers also need to consider high-impact challenges associated to geothermal brines, such as corrosion, which can result in significant equipment and material damage.
The right solution for every challenge
Operators are principally interested in ensuring that their geothermal wells remain productive, robust and safe throughout their life, while maintaining operating costs at a minimum level. This requires identifying the right products that are capable of resisting the most extreme geothermal conditions while remaining cost-effective.
Vallourec has extensive experience of supplying tubulars in the most challenging environments, such as geothermal. Our wide range of corrosion-resistant metallurgies can withstand the hot and highly corrosive (H2S, CO2) geothermal brines. In addition, Vallourec threaded connections ensure integrity and tightness enabling safe operation –even in the highest-temperature geothermal wells.
Our lastest generation VAM®21 connection has been recently used at Lake Assal in Djibouti where temperatures reach a scorching 360°—approximately double those of standard wells. This resistance makes VAM®21 a key element for cost-effective and high-productive geothermal wells.
Innovation for geothermal energy
The geothermal industry is seeing a new wave of development, which presents fresh technical and economic challenges such as ultra-deep geothermal reservoirs (up to 5km depth) and closed-loop geothermal technologies
Vallourec is actively involved in the development of these innovative applications, partnering with some of the main players. Vallourec’s product THERMOCASE® vacuum-insulated tubing (VIT) has revealed itself to be valuable as part of a new closed-loop extraction technology called GreenLoopTM, developed by GreenFire Energy, which enables to produce geothermal power virtually everywhere – regardless of water presence or formation porosity. This technology also opens the possibility for geothermal operators to retrofit unproductive geothermal wells in order to produce power.
Ready to support geothermal growth
Innovative technologies like these will help lessen the overall cost of geothermal projects. Geothermal energy may only play a modest role in today’s global renewable energy mix, but that is likely to change in the years to come as it becomes accessible worldwide.
Vallourec’s global footprint and expertise will be major advantages in the upcoming geothermal decade!
Alvaro joined Vallourec’s Connection R&D department in 2014 as a Qualification Project Manager. After various roles in the Customer Support & Product Design service, he joined the Marketing & Development teams as a Product Manager. In his current position, Alvaro is at the interface between ETO and product strategy for Geothermal, CCUS and Hydrogen applications.
Pierre-Etienne joined Vallourec in 2012. After several positions in Controlling and within the Vallourec Transformation Office, he joined the Energy Transition Office as Geothermal Business Development Manager. His role is to develop Vallourec's Geothermal business, working with innovative technologies and developing new business models.