As the world looks for environmentally friendly energy sources to reduce the use of fossil fuels that remain buried beneath the earth’s surface, geothermal energy is one of the alternatives to such carbon-intensive combustibles that also remains buried deep beneath the Blue Planet’s crust.
According to research and experts, geothermal locations in the UAE offer tremendous potential to contribute to the country’s energy mix if properly exploited and maintained.
Geothermal technology, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), takes heat from the earth’s subsurface and uses it directly for heating and cooling.
The UAE’s capital city of Abu Dhabi and neighboring Al Ain city have “very important geothermal potential,” according to Antonio Di Cecca, COO of utility company Tabreed, in a television interview following a recent decision to link Masdar City’s district cooling to a geothermal energy source.
Tabreed offers a centralized cooling system for buildings, with insulated pipes delivering chilled water to businesses, industrial, and residential structures. The Dubai-based firm provides services to iconic constructions such as the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall, amusement park Ferrari World, and the Dubai Metro, to mention a few.
On August 14, the UAE’s state-run oil firm ADNOC and Tabreed revealed that geothermal energy will account for 10% of Masdar’s total energy consumption.
The companies tested two geothermal wells that were found more than 10 years ago in the sustainability-focused residential community that will supply energy to Tabreed’s current district cooling system within the city.
The wells reportedly produce hot water at temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Celsius and flow rates of approximately 100 liters per second. The hot water generated by the heat from the wells will now pass through an absorption cooling system to produce chilled water, which will then be supplied to Tabreed’s district cooling network at Masdar City, it added.
Geothermal energy was first harnessed for a district heating system in the US in the late 1800s. Since then, the renewable and clean source of energy has been used for electricity generation and direct-use purposes such as horticulture and aquaculture.
This energy comes from the heat within the earth’s core and can provide a constant flow when harnessed. Using geothermal energy for district cooling is 20 to 30 percent more energy efficient, according to Di Cecca. “This is the first time here in the region that we are exploring a project to use geothermal energy for cooling production,” he told Al Arabiya.
The Tabreed COO said the company was using absorption technology, which does not need electricity to run.
These machines can be operated at a relatively lower cost than normal chillers because they don’t require a lot of maintenance, they are environment friendly and their efficiency is much better than traditional cooling methods, said Di Cecca, who had previously worked with French utility company Engie.
He further said: “Our aim is to explore the areas where our district cooling is already present, near the most important geothermal energy reservoirs, and see how we can scale up the size and energy mix of renewable energies, including geothermal energies, in our system.”