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Earth as potentially the largest energy source – interview with EGEC’s President, Miklos Antics

During this year’s Budapest Geothermal Energy Summit, we sat down with Miklos Antics, President of the European Geothermal Energy Council (EGEC) to talk about his extensive experience in the geothermal energy sector, the potential of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and prospects for the sector going forward.

Alongside his role as EGEC President, Mr Antics is also Managing Director and Associate Partner of two geothermal engineering and service companies, GPC Instrumentation Process (GPC IP) and GEOFLUID, both based in France. On this point, we asked Mr Antics about the key risks and constraints associated with deep drilling.

“Derisking with respect to finding the resource consists first of assessing the existing seismic lines, which will give us the top of the reservoir. Then, of course, complement this information with 3D seismic if it’s necessary, rely a lot on offset wells which resulted in previous geothermal exploration production and rely also on oil and gas wells, which were drilled to explore the basin. So, this is the standard way of exploring, let’s say,” he tells us.

“Whilst targeting is done by data modelling for a probabilistic approach to the target. The greatest limitation in doing so, is the available land for siting up the drill site. You may find a very favoured zone but the place from where you have to drill is very far from that, so this is a major constraint in development in a densely urbanised siting which is the Paris area. I think this is the same constraint in other densely urbanised areas, where priority is given to the construction of real estate instead of energy supply.”

In terms of derisking, Mr Antics points to access to support schemes, telling us about a successful geothermal project realised thanks to a French support programme managed by the French Energy and Environmental Agency (ADEME). “We have accomplished a project in an area in which, in 2016, we already experienced failure because it was at the edge of the basin, not giving us the expected production rate. In France, there is a risk-sharing mechanism provided by a mutual funding scheme ensured by a state-owned fund, which covered 80 per cent of the costs of that well, meaning we could target a new well in order to make the project successful,” he says.

Now, they have completed a second project in the same difficult area. “And by developing new technologies, we have secured the project by doing a VSP (vertical seismic profile) in the well, so we could look ahead in the well to see whether we could find the top of the targets. While, of course, our aim was also to see the layering of the structure but we couldn’t go high-frequency enough to do so,” Mr Antics adds.

“So the next step will be to do high-frequency imaging of the deeper structure in order to see the layers. However all these methods will never give you the exact value of the productivity of the transmissibility of your well and then you will learn it when you drill,” he notes.

“We have gone further – we have used active geo-steering which means we have gone far in the reservoir for 800 metres, almost in a sub-horizontal section at 84-86 degrees in order to catch the most productive layer, in order to secure productivity and injectivity in the well. So, there are techniques in the exploration phase, in the drilling phase and also in achieving the drilling itself by maximising the success of geothermal exploration and production,” Mr Antics tells CEENERGYNEWS.

Pannonian Basin – the metropolis of CEE’s geothermal potential?

Looking directly at Central and Eastern Europe, we asked Mr Antics about the countries with the most potential in utilising their geothermal resources. “Hungary, Croatia, Serbia – we have seen the maps and we have seen their successes – all the countries of the Pannonian Basin,” he says.

“Austria has great ambitions; Slovenia and Slovakia, too; the western part of Romania, all these countries have enormous potential. I speak to mayors and local leaders in my home country and they all tell me – what we need is to have a geothermal well or doublet to provide heating for our community buildings, to have a spa, to create recreational facilities, to have a service for the tourism and to give jobs and then build green houses, provide food – so, this is the ambition of every community, to keep the people in the community. Where there is energy, there is life.”

With the increasing role of the more widely used renewables (for example, wind and solar), we asked Mr Antics about how geothermal energy could compete with the existing landscape of renewable sources. “They should not compete. Every renewable generation facility should be part of the energy mix,” he emphasises. “Whilst geothermal energy has the greatest advantage with 24/7 availability compared to other weather-dependent sources, it should not be looked at as a competitor,” he adds.

“Geothermal also has the great advantage that it can serve in hybrid energy systems like together with solar. You can get solar geothermal, where you can produce it in the day and can store it in the ground and you can use wind energy converted into heat and then store it down,” he highlights.

“So the Earth itself can serve as a battery in the long term, so it should not be a competitor in my opinion. However, we should focus a lot on heat, not forgetting combined heat and power where the resource setting allows it. We should look at this objectively, we have a unit of energy which we can produce from a well and we have to produce power with the temperatures we have and the enthalpy we have, with a COP greater than 15. We should use advanced technologies conversion efficiency with the rest, which is heat residual heat we are remaining with. It’s best to combine heat and power – wherever is it possible, it should be done.”

Turning to the regulatory sphere, we discussed the most pressing issues raised by members of the EGEC in recent months and/or years. Mr Antics points to a series of key bottlenecks – the first one being the lack of European mechanisms for risk sharing and reporting, noting that the geothermal sector is dispersed in many countries in the EU. “We need to have funding – funding for geothermal, we need geothermal to become not only European policy but also State policy,” he continues.

In addition, Mr Antics highlights the need for every EU member state to implement a subsidy system for geothermal development – “at least normalise it, which would secure many operators to go ahead with geothermal,” he underlines. Moreover, he believes that more fiscal incentives such as VAT breaks are needed, as seen in countries like France.

More broadly, he highlights the need for material and human resources, which today is insufficient, despite high ambitions. “We need to untie our forces and share our resources amongst each other to make geothermal a success,” he says.

EU member states are currently in the process of revising their 10-year National Energy and Climate Policies (NECP). On this point, we discussed the prospects for geothermal energy to be included in NECPs of countries from the CEE. “I hope geothermal will be included, because so far in the previous plans as I saw, and I know the countries in the region because I worked at least 10 years of my career in the area, geothermal has never had an important contribution to these plans,” Mr Antics says.

Mr Antics believes that one of the key reasons for geothermal energy not being included in key policy documents is the lack of awareness of its benefits among policymakers. “In many countries, national associations are not strong enough to open the doors to the government, energy ministries or the resource agencies to tell them every day that there is geothermal to be developed,” he says.

National geothermal associations should also educate the communities on how projects are conducted and their benefits, Mr Antics says – adding that, French and Dutch associations do this on a local level, inviting local policymakers and other stakeholders to such discussions. “If nobody knows you, you don’t speak up – no one will give you a penny,” he concludes.

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