A new tool to investigate global geothermal energy potentials is now available online, ahead of World Geothermal Congress in Melbourne, Australia. The new and freely available gravity anomaly maps, the product of collaboration between the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), offer a new technique to gauge geothermal potentials around the world.
As geothermal energy exists underground, it is extremely difficult to measure. Accordingly, exploration is expensive, time consuming, and risky for investors and governments. This new technique, using Global Bouguer and Free Air Gravity Anomaly Maps, enables prospectors to gauge geothermal potentials at minimum risk and minimum cost.
“These maps can help make a strong business case for geothermal development where none existed before,” said Henning Wuester, Director of IRENA’s Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre. “In doing so, the tool provides a short-cut for lengthy and costly explorations and unlocks the potential of geothermal energy as a reliable and clean contribution to the world’s energy mix.”
The maps use ESA satellite gravity measurements to look for certain characteristics unique to geothermal reservoirs, including areas with thin crusts, subduction zones, and young magmatic activity. This helps determine which areas are most likely to possess geothermal potential, narrowing the search for prospectors.
“This is the first time that ESA’s global gravity data from the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer satellite has been used as a tool for geothermal energy site exploration,” said Volker Liebig, Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes. “ESA will continue its collaboration with IRENA to further improve space-based gravity data as a resource for sustainable energy development.”
The publication of these maps is a first step towards developing a comprehensive geothermal prospecting technique. Future iterations could be produced at finer scales, integrating the satellite data locally with terrestrial data to further improve the quality of results.
The latest geothermal maps are a part of the Global Atlas portal, the most comprehensive repository of global renewable energy resource potential maps. The Atlas combines 1,000 maps from 67 governments and 50 data centres to provide access to the necessary datasets, expertise and financial support to help countries evaluate their national renewable energy potentials. Currently, 67 countries and more than 50 institutes and partners contribute to the initiative.
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