It's a clear day and totally calm in Adventdalen. The first rays of sunlight are hitting the top of Operafjellet and at UNIS its CO2 laboratory has accumulated 18 people. A scientist with Christian Michelsen Research (CMR), Peter J. Thomas, demonstrates the use of fiber optic cables for the audience. The group listens with interest and questions are making the rounds.
Senior Geologist Malte Jochmann at Store Norske is the project leader for "A Sustainable Energy Solution for Svalbard – Utilization of Geothermal Energy." The project is a collaboration between Store Norske, CMR and the research foundation Norsar, and they are investigating the potential for using geothermal energy – also called terrestrial heat – as the energy source for Svalbard. Together they issued an invitation to a kick-off meeting in Longyearbyen and more people than expected have signed up.
The project has a budget of 3.25 million kroner. Before Christmas they were awarded 1.3 million from The Research Council of Norway. The rest is Store Norske's own contribution.
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"The project has been planned for some time and it now starting for real," Jochmann says.
Results in August
The drilling season for Store Norske is already underway and in March the first holes of the geothermal project will be drilled.
"We will have the first results pretty quickly, but the first temperature measurements are uncertain, as there may still be some heat in the holes after drilling," Jochmann says. "But we always have a close inspection of all boreholes in August and then we will measure the temperatures again. Then comes the first conclusive results."
In addition to new studies, researchers will collect all available data used in previous research. There is already considerable geological research in Svalbard from other oil companies. Store Norske is also sitting on a lot of knowledge from coal mining that can be applied to this project.
After the demonstration at the UNIS laboratory, Jochmann puts a rifle on his back and invites the group out. A little tourism is also happening at this time. He tells the story behind the German airplane wreckage located just to the side. Then we head up to Mine 7 to get a better view of the area around Longyearbyen.
Kirsti Midttømme is a senior scientist with CMR. She says the Norwegian Polar Institute called two years ago and wondered if studies had been conducted about geothermal energy in Svalbard. They had not.
"Contrary to what people might think in terms of cold and permafrost here, there is a greater likelihood of high temperatures a bit further down in the soil of Svalbard than on the mainland."
That's because Svalbard is closer to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge line passing through the entire Atlantic Ocean that includes the volcanic center zone that created Iceland. Geothermal energy is also found on the surface of Svalbard: The hot water that flows from the ground in Bockfjorden is an example of this.
Midttømme hopes that if the boring produces positive results, they can establish a demonstration facility for the use of geothermal energy within a few years. She is excited about the idea of such a project, which would be a major breakthrough in Norwegian energy policy.
"It is hoped that it can replace fossil fuels that are heating settlements on Svalbard: Longyearbyen, Ny-Ålesund and Svea in the first round."
Jochmann shares the enthusiasm with Midttømme, but emphasizes there are many details that must be in place.
"The big picture we already see now, but there is some uncertainty about many details that we experts knew from before," he says.
A critical factor, for example, is if there is negative pressure in the boreholes it will be difficult to pump water, even if the temperatures are high enough.
"We are at the very early stages, and we have many ideas and thoughts," Jochmann says. "In about two years we will know more certainly."
Greater confidence in Ny-Ålesund
As of today, neither Store Norske nor anyone else is authorized to initiate a geothermal project in Ny-Ålesund because the area is only zoned for research. If it becomes necessary to drill in Ny-Ålesund, applications must be submitted first.
"We think that there may be a greater scope for exploitation of geothermal energy in Ny-Ålesund than in Longyearbyen," Midttømme says. "Ny-Ålesund is even closer to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge."
The group concludes with a visit to the power station in Longyearbyen. One possibility that would simplify the geothermal project would be if it is possible to make a ground heat connection at the existing power plant.
"We go out wide and see what we can avail ourselves of," Midttømme says.