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Taking the risk of geothermal drilling is a worthwhile investment – interview with Gábor Molnár, Managing Director of Mannvit Hungary

Gábor Molnár, Managing Director of Mannvit Hungary will be one of the speakers of the Budapest Geothermal Energy Summit to be held on 5 June.

Over the past years, geothermal energy has been rediscovered as a clean and reliable source of heat and electricity. Especially in Hungary, where the government is working on new laws and regulations to ease some permitting rules and remove remaining bottlenecks.

Ahead of the Budapest Geothermal Energy Summit, we spoke with Gábor Molnár, Managing Director of Mannvit Kft, about the company’s operations in Hungary, how to best utilise geothermal energy and the main challenges hindering the growth of this source.

“Nowadays it is getting more and more important to supply as much energy as possible from our own resource, by a securely available energy source, which is at the same time a green and renewable,” he begins.

He points out that geothermal energy is one of the most environmentally friendly and most reliable energy sources, in case of proper design it does not pollute the environment in any way, needs only a small land to implement, but is able to produce constant energy amount, appropriate both for heating and electricity production.

“Hungary is very rich in geothermal resources in the low and medium temperature ranges, thanks for our geological history and location,” Mr Molnár underlines. “Due to the current energy situation, with the uncountable energy prices and broken trust in the security of supply, the value of local energy sources increased a lot. Also, after the past heavy increase in energy prices, a low and stable operating costs energy source is strongly needed. In addition, there is high demand for carbon-neutral energy supply both in the residential and industrial sectors. Geothermal energy is able to merge these three advantages.”

Regarding the main obstacles, Mr Molnár mentions the high upfront investment cost and the uncertain result of the first drilling.

“This risk shall be taken into account during business planning and financing of the project, this is one of the main factors determining the price of the supplied geothermal energy,” he explains. “However, with proper preparation, geological exploration and a step-by-step approach, this uncertainty can be considerably decreased. After successful exploration and drilling, a geothermal project became easily bankable and one of the most feasible energy investments in the long term, by providing cheap energy at a stable price.”

Photo courtesy of Mannvit.

As the geothermal potential of the entire Pannonian basin is enormous, the Managing Director of Mannvit Kft, observes that the situation is somewhat similar in the region: geothermal developments are starting all around Hungary, there are many investors appeared, interested to start new projects in the region, with support of the governments.

“Regulatory environment is different in every country, so the project execution – and especially the preparation time – is different, making the preliminary planning a complex task,” he states. “There is also rapid development in the northern countries, like Netherlands, Germany and Poland, despite the geothermal potential being lower than in the Pannonian basin. Geothermal heating and electricity production is equally important and in many cases go together. Communities and investors realised that taking the risk of geothermal drilling is a worthwhile investment and also beneficial for the climate change mitigation and healthcare point of view.”

Mannvit Kft is an international engineering firm with projects Worldwide, however, its main focus area is Hungary and Central Eastern Europe.

“Expertise of Mannvit Kft covers all fields of geothermal energy projects, we employ highly qualified geoscientists, drilling engineers and supervisors, we have experience in geophysical surveys and geological explorations and we have experts in surface system design like mechanical and electrical engineering for both geothermal heating and power plant systems,” explains Mr Molnár. “Furthermore we are able to fully manage projects and construction works, providing turnkey solutions.”

He mentions that Mannvit Kft participated in and supports R&D projects aiming to deepen the knowledge in the exploration of geothermal resources, develop new technologies and improve the existing ones.

“The company offers its Hungarian-Icelandic expertise for executing geothermal projects in the region, but we definitely do more than engineering consultancy,” he continues. “Mannvit Kft takes an active role in project developments, we support investors in the first steps through project preparation, financing and procurements. We guide investors through the entire project lifetime, actively participating as their partner in the investment.”

Currently, there are several projects in Hungary in which Mannvit is involved, with two in particular that were finalised: the Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) for electricity production in Southeast Hungary and the geothermal plant in Tura.

“Mannvit Kft took part in the development of the EGS technology and using that gained knowledge and experience we participated in the South Hungarian EGS project as a designer. Our task has been completed years ago, we have no information about the current status of the project,” states Mr Molnár. “Mannvit Kft took a major role in the design and the execution of the Tura geothermal power plant. We were project managers and designers of the geothermal system. The plant was commissioned in 2017 and is in operation since then. In parallel with the Tura project, we designed a similar, but larger geothermal power plant in Croatia, named Velika-Ciglena geothermal power plant, also in operation for 4 years.”

Mannvit Kft is currently working on the development of several geothermal projects in Hungary and in other European countries, both for electricity production and geothermal direct heating, aiming to supply communities and industries. In particular, Mr Molnár indicates geothermal power plant projects all around the country to increase the renewable baseload energy production capacity.

“Also, we are working on geothermal heating systems, in order to supply stable green energy to the existing district heating networks, significantly reducing their operational costs and the related CO2 emission,” he adds. “We also provide engineering services in several large industries, who are aiming to supply their energy needs (both heating and electricity) by local, green energy sources.”

Regarding where can be observed the best utilisation of geothermal energy, Mr Molnár says that there is no obvious answer to this question as utilisation of geothermal energy highly depends on the resource parameters and consumer needs.

“Geothermal energy is the most reliable renewable energy source to produce base load electricity with very low operational costs, but one of the few renewable energies which are able to produce emission-free heating,” he highlights. “As being a constantly available energy source, the best utilisation methods are the not weather-dependent users, which can use the energy constantly in all year, for example, industrial-technological heat demands, or electricity production.”

Illustration courtesy of Mannvit.

Also, the investment and operational costs mainly depend on the produced brine (geothermal water) amount, so the best way of utilising geothermal energy is to connect different temperature demand consumers into a cascade system, following each other and maximising the usage of the harvested energy.

“As until now, Mannvit Kft will provide comprehensive geoscience and engineering services, supporting different investors to develop as many geothermal projects as possible in Hungary and in the region,” Gábor Molnár concludes. “Along with our domestic and international partners, beyond engineering tasks, we are providing professional, full-scale solutions for geothermal exploration and project execution, based on decades of Worldwide experience. This might include field studies, surveys, analyses and full execution of explorations, management of executions. In the long term, we develop our company to be able to take a larger role in project developments and provide turnkey solutions, including execution and operation of geothermal systems.”

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