Geothermal Energy in Canada: 12 Facts

geothermal energy in Canada - facts and statistics

Geothermal energy – a renewable and sustainable energy source – has gained global attention as many nations strive for lower-emission power alternatives. Canada, known for its vast natural resources, possesses immense potential for geothermal energy development, which could create enormous benefits for Canadians and Indigenous communities, especially those in remote locations across our country’s vast wilderness.

Here are several fun facts on geothermal energy in Canada, plus more on opportunities presented by this sustainable energy source for families across the country. Also see:

12 Facts on Geothermal Energy Canada

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#1 -  Canada’s geothermal potential is immense, with an estimated 5,000 megawatt (MW) resources with currently available technology [12]

#2 - 5,000 MW of baseload geothermal power could support 8,500 operational and maintenance jobs, as well as 20,000 part-time construction jobs [12]

#3 - 5,000 MW of geothermal power could also displace an equivalent amount of coal-fired power that could offset more than 25 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually [12]

#4 - Almost all current geothermal applications in Canada provide heating for buildings, agriculture, hot springs, or industry [4]

#5 - Alberta is currently home to the only commercial geothermal power plant in Canada, the Swan Hills Geothermal Power Project [4]

#6 - Several proposed geothermal projects are planned in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan through 2030 [4]

#7 - Canada’s extensive sedimentary basins contain extensive fluid in porous rocks, an excellent medium for high-temperature pockets of geothermal [4]

#8 - A Canadian company holds the geothermal rights for nearly 40,000 hectares in Saskatchewan, with the potential for 200 MW of geothermal power --- which could offset CO2 emissions equivalent to removing 170,000 cars off the road [11]

#9 - Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Southern Northwest Territories have regions with earth temperatures that exceed 150°C at depths as shallow as three kilometres, which have the potential for conventional geothermal electricity generation [4]

#10 - Enhanced geothermal systems require drilling down four to five kilometres to access rock warm enough to generate power, a depth where the rock must be artificially fractured to create sufficient heat permeability [10]

#11 - Northern communities in Canada often rely on diesel fuel for heat and power; therefore, geothermal is particularly appealing for use in such remote locations, especially if waste-heat can be repurposed to heat greenhouses which helps solidify food security for these communities [10]

#12 - Geothermal energy costs were estimated to be between $4,500 and $6,050 per kilowatt (kW) of capacity in 2021, higher than most solar projects, coal, and natural gas, but lower than nuclear [4]

What is Geothermal Energy?

Geothermal energy harnesses heat from the Earth's core to generate energy for human use. But how does it work, exactly?

Roughly 2,900 kilometres below the Earth’s surface is the core, the hottest part of our planet. A small part of the core’s heat stems from the friction and gravitational pull formed when Earth was created billions of years ago. However, most of Earth’s heat is generated by the constant decay of radioactive isotopes [2].

The decay of these isotopes is a continual process. Temperatures rise to more than 5,000 °Celsius (C), radiating outwards and warming all matter in its path such as water, oil, gas, and other geological materials.

Geothermal can come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from hot molten magma to dry and commercially viable heat. The latter is ideal for sustainable geothermal energy production as it can be enhanced using water to create steam, which can then move turbines, activating a generator that produces electricity.

Geothermal has several advantages, such as being a continuous and reliable energy source, emission-free, and capable of providing baseload power. Unlike solar or wind, “earth” energy is not intermittent, making it a promising form of sustainable energy production.

Geothermal Across Canada

Government of Canada - Geothermal Chart

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Canada has abundant geothermal potential, with significant untapped resources waiting to be harnessed. In Alberta, for example, there is enormous potential to leverage its existing energy infrastructure to support geothermal development. The geological conditions in the province, such as the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, make it a promising location for geothermal projects in addition to the many inactive wells found across its landscapes.

Today, the only commercially viable geothermal power plant in operation in Canada is the Swan Hills project in Alberta, commissioned in January 2023. In the coming decade, several more projects are proposed in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta [4].

A case study by researchers at the University of Alberta found that inactive oil and natural gas wells could be repurposed to provide energy in various applications, such as heating for livestock or greenhouses [1]. However, the financial feasibility of current applications remains challenging with current technology.

With its remote communities and reliance on diesel generators, Northern Canada can benefit significantly from geothermal energy. The region's stable tectonic environment and extensive geothermal gradients provide ample opportunities for off-grid geothermal systems, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and lowering energy costs.

But once again, significant energy challenges remain for this emerging sustainable energy source in Canada’s remote territories, such as obtaining the appropriate infrastructure to support energy transfer. In some areas, resource temperatures may not support large-scale power or heat generation [3].

Empowering Indigenous Communities

Indigenous communities in Canada have a vital role to play in transforming our energy systems. Geothermal energy projects offer unique opportunities for these communities to participate in and benefit from sustainable development. By involving Indigenous people in the ownership and decision-making process, geothermal projects can contribute to economic growth, employment opportunities, and self-determination.

Indigenous communities, such as the Dene Nation in Northern Canada, have a deep connection to the land and its resources. Geothermal energy aligns with their traditional values and offers a chance to diversify their economies while reducing reliance on diesel and other fossil fuels. Additionally, developing geothermal projects can provide training programs and create long-term, sustainable jobs for Indigenous populations.

Several initiatives have emerged to promote Indigenous involvement in renewable energy projects in recent years. For instance, the Indigenous Clean Energy Social Enterprise (ICE) helps Indigenous communities develop renewable energy projects, including geothermal, by providing technical expertise and facilitating partnerships [6].

Several Indigenous-led geothermal projects have started in Northern Canada, including the Tu Deh Kah Geothermal Project in the traditional territory of Fort Nelson First Nation [5]. Much like oil and natural gas developments such as Cedar LNG and Ksi Lisims LNG, these projects provide Indigenous communities with ownership of the project and are a huge step towards economic reconciliation with First Nations.

Canada’s Geothermal Opportunity

Geothermal energy in Canada presents a tremendous opportunity for rural communities to diversify their energy mix, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote sustainable development.

Alberta's existing energy infrastructure, Northern Canada's remote communities, and the involvement of Indigenous communities are key areas where geothermal projects can make a significant impact.

By embracing geothermal energy and involving Indigenous people in ownership and decision-making, Canada can forge a path towards a cleaner and more inclusive energy future.

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SOURCES:

1. University of Alberta. (2022, November). Geothermal Energy Could Give Old Oil and Gas Wells a New Lease on Life. Retrieved from https://www.ualberta.ca/folio/2022/11/geothermal-energy-could-give-old-oil-and-gas-wells-a-new-lease-on-life.html (Date Accessed: July 2023)

2. National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Geothermal Energy. Retrieved from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/geothermal-energy/ (Date Accessed: July 2023)

3. Canadian Geothermal Energy Association. (n.d.). Nunavut Geothermal. Retrieved from https://www.cangea.ca/nunavutgeothermal.html (Date Accessed: July 2023)

4. Canada Energy Regulator. (2023, Month Day). Market Snapshot: Geothermal Power Stable, Low Carbon, What is Potential Canada?. Retrieved from https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/en/data-analysis/energy-markets/market-snapshots/2023/market-snapshot-geothermal-power-stable-low-carbon-what-is-potential-canada.html (Date Accessed: July 2023)

5. Tudehkah. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from https://tudehkah.com/ (Date Accessed: July 2023

6. Serati, S., et al. (2020). Geothermal Energy and the Role of Indigenous Communities in Canada. (Date Accessed: July 2023)

7. Canadian Geothermal Energy Association. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from https://www.cangea.ca/ (Date Accessed: July 2023)

8. International Conference on Environmental Science and Engineering. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from https://icese.ca/ (Date Accessed: July 2023)

9. Natural Resources Canada. (n.d.). Geo-Mapping Energy and Minerals. Retrieved from https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/science-data/geography-boundary/geo-mapping/geo-mapping-energy-minerals/14433 (Date Accessed: July 2023)

10. Natural Resources Canada. (n.d.). Advancing the Development of Conventional and Enhanced Geothermal Energy. Retrieved from https://natural-resources.canada.ca/energy/offices-labs/canmet/ottawa-research-centre/renewable-energy/advancing-the-development-conventional-and-enhanced-geothermal-energy/23540 (Date Accessed: July 2023)

11. Deep Corp. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from https://deepcorp.ca/ (Date Accessed: July 2023)

12. Canadian Geothermal Energy Association. (n.d.). Geothermal. Retrieved from https://www.cangea.ca/geothermal.html (Date Accessed: July 2023)