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Turning Up the Heat on Geothermal Energy

15 Mar 2024
Featured Stories 15 Mar 2024

Singapore’s geothermal energy landscape includes the presence of the Sembawang hot spring, fuelling ongoing exploration into deep geothermal technologies.

Have you ever visited the Sembawang hot spring and immersed your tired feet in the naturally heated water bubbling up from deep underground? If so, you have experienced one of the therapeutic benefits of geothermal energy – heat generated and stored in the Earth, harnessed for human consumption.

Utilising geothermal energy is not a new concept. Many countries, including the United States, Iceland, and Indonesia, have long depended on geothermal energy to generate electricity and provide heat for homes.[1]

Recently, advances in drilling technology have unlocked the potential of geothermal energy as a potential renewable energy source for Singapore. To delve deeper into this topic, we spoke to our colleagues Bobby Tan, Principal Analyst and Clarence Heng, Senior Engineer with the Energy Technologies Department at the Energy Market Authority (EMA).

Clarence Heng (left) and Bobby Tan (right) from the Energy Technologies Department are looking into the potential of geothermal energy for Singapore. Bobby is also part of the Future Energy Programme team at the Science & Technology Policy and Plans Office (S&TPPO), a department of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Why Geothermal Energy?

“With our net-zero by 2050 target, we constantly assess the viability of different clean energy sources and power generation technologies that can be implemented in Singapore. We are open to emerging technologies as they require time to develop and may become feasible in the long term,” Clarence said.

Highlighting the importance of diversification, Bobby added, “It is also important that we do not rely on one single source of energy, especially when many of these technologies are still nascent.”

“There are benefits that geothermal energy offers compared to other renewable energy sources. For instance, if proven to be feasible, geothermal energy could add to our mix of domestic clean energy sources besides solar. But unlike intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal energy is a more dependable source for providing uninterrupted power supply,” he added.

“Should our investigations yield positive outcomes, the scalability of geothermal energy could contribute to Singapore’s net-zero target while reducing our reliance on imported energy supply.”

Warming Up to the Idea of Geothermal

Traditional geothermal energy systems rely on extracting heat from shallow underground reservoirs of hot water, where temperatures typically reach above 150oC, for power generation. However, in Singapore, temperature at locations such as the Sembawang hot spring, only range from 60oC to 80oC. This suggests that deploying such traditional geothermal systems is not feasible here.

As technologies develop, deep geothermal systems like the Advanced Geothermal System (AGS) and Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) tap on heat from hot dry rocks found at depths beyond 3km, and at temperatures greater than 150oC. “The deeper we go, the higher the temperature. So it’s akin to having a more powerful and efficient engine for electricity generation,” Clarence elaborated.

“In the past, such deep geothermal systems were not economically viable due to their high costs. But over time, the drilling technology has been improving and this helps to reduce the cost of constructing such deep geothermal systems,” Bobby added.

Shows the characteristics of different geothermal systems

Types of geothermal systems

Just last year, an exploratory study conducted by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) found a site near Admiralty Lane to potentially have deep underground temperatures which are high enough for power generation.

“An area that we are studying is the power plant technology to be coupled with geothermal energy. If high temperatures can be extracted at depth, we could potentially use conventional steam turbines to generate electricity. But if the temperature is not as high, then we may have to consider a different power plant technology with a lower level of efficiency,” Clarence said.

Notwithstanding the exciting possibilities of geothermal, Bobby and Clarence see the importance of staying vigilant as the technology evolves. This is why they closely monitor the development of deep geothermal technologies and pilot studies, particularly in countries like Germany, to understand their operations and challenges. Likewise, the team is on the lookout to attend overseas conferences focusing on deep geothermal technologies.

They pointed out that Singapore, with its limited land space and highly built-up environment, will face distinctive challenges, such as potential impacts on nearby residential areas. Moreover, the economic viability of the technology requires careful evaluation before it can be deemed feasible. Thus, a thoughtful and strategic approach is essential.

“Prior to any potential deployment in Singapore, thorough environmental and safety studies will be conducted to ensure that the technology is safe to deploy,” Clarence said.

Granite rock core samples collected from the drilling site at the Simpang Granite pluton geological area

Striking While the Iron is Hot

To lay the groundwork, a Request for Proposal (RFP) to conduct an island-wide non-invasive geophysical study to assess Singapore’s deep geothermal resource potential at depths up to 10km was carried out. This comprehensive study will provide additional data points and identify suitable locations for potential geothermal power plant deployment.

“At the same time, we’re sparing no effort in engaging local and international academia and industry experts in this field, fostering the exchange of best practices, technological know-how, and understanding the regulations involved,” Clarence shared.

We have partnered with Nanyang Technology University (NTU) and Surbana Jurong to study Singapore’s geothermal potential, led by NTU in collaboration with TUMCREATE.

Summing up their perspectives, Bobby and Clarence expressed, “It’s too early to determine if geothermal energy will be a game-changer in our energy landscape. But we are cautiously optimistic that we can tap into a localised, clean energy source right beneath our feet. Achieving this goal will help us decarbonise power generation and reduce our reliance on imported energy.”

[1] Source: National Geographic


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