Geothermal energy is a sustainable and stable energy source, and what is more, the technology offers economic opportunities. In the GEOTHERMIE 2020 study, VITO, VOKA Kempen and IOK investigated whether geothermal energy can boost employment and strengthen the economy.

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GEOTHERMIE 2020 brings geothermal energy into the spotlight as a sustainable, promising energy source for residents, local authorities and companies. The study ran from July 2013 to December 2014, and the Campine was chosen as the test region.

“We worked together with our partners to investigate whether geothermal energy can boost employment and strengthen the economic fabric,” explains Ben Laenen from VITO. “We chose the Campine as its birthplace, but the technology can be rolled out across the whole of Flanders. It has already proven its reliability in other countries. In order to enable a fast rollout, we drew up a step-by-step plan.”

Technological challenges

The researchers claim that geothermal energy has the potential to attract international companies and create local jobs. “We calculated that a 20 MWth thermal power plant will create around twenty full-time jobs,” states Ben. “If we fully realise the potential in the Campine and Limburg, that could give rise to 1500 full-time jobs by 2050, 75 per cent of which in Flanders. The new positions will not require just highly educated people, because geothermal energy is a labour-intensive energy source. Even so, they will remain competitive due to the absence of fuel costs.”

Complex transition

VITO mainly conducted technological research within GEOTHERMIE 2020, with researchers focusing on geological aspects, energy systems and technologies, transitions and materials science.

“In order to involve the regional companies in the project, we called upon VOKA Kempen. IOK (Intercommunale voor de Ontwikkeling van de Kempen) [an intermunicipal cooperative society for development of the Campine] was the ideal partner for forming a bridge between the project, the municipalities and local residents,” explains Ben. “Geothermal energy is a tale of transition: we want to reconcile technological and economic opportunities with society’s needs.” GEOTHERMIE 2020 was an EFRO project 910. It was partly funded by the Flemish Agency for Entrepreneurship (Vlaams Agentschap Ondernemen) and the Province of Antwerp.