Geothermal energy is a local and sustainable energy source that is available constantly. Despite those major advantages, the technology is still not being used on a large scale. VITO teamed up with Grontmij and TNO to investigate what the barriers are and what potential geothermal energy offers in the Flanders-Netherlands border region.

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In 2013 and 2014, VITO launched six case studies for the purpose of investigating the potential of geothermal energy. They were conducted in the provinces of Antwerp, Belgian and Dutch Limburg, and North Brabant. The project was given the name GeoHeat-app.

“The studies investigated whether geothermal energy is available in aquifers at more than 250 metres and in fault zones. We supplemented that information with data on the geological substrate,” explains Ben Laenen from VITO. “The geological layers obviously do not stop at the border, and for this reason, the cross-border collaboration was extremely productive.”

Specific projects

GeoHeat-app did more than study the geology. As soon as the geothermal potential was clear, an economic feasibility study followed. “We made the link with specific property development projects,” explains Ben. Near Eindhoven, for example, a brand-new campus is being built with a working (mixed-use) landscape for mechatronics companies, systemically important companies, and knowledge suppliers. We would be able to cover around 65 per cent of that complex’s heat demand with geothermal energy, even though the source there is relatively small.”

The Turnhout Parkwijk, a district of around 400 homes built in the 1960s and 1970s, is going even further. “The heat demand of all those residents, plus that of the schools, the swimming pool and the sports centre can be fully met by a single geothermal energy source,” says Ben. “What is more, if we increase the thermal network fourfold, which is perfectly feasible, we will be able to connect another 10,000 homes to the geothermal energy source.”

Stable prices

Geothermal energy could supply the border region with sustainable, locally extracted heat at stable prices. The energy source will also remain available over the long term. “With GeoHeat-app, we have demonstrated the potential of geothermal energy in the border region,” adds Ben. “Supply and demand must then be matched effectively to one another: the case studies show that this is the way to make it as profitable as possible.” GeoHeat-app ran from 1 January 2013 to 30 June 2014, and formed part of the European project Interreg IVA.