A recent article in The Conversation by Graeme Beardsmore* of Melbourne University outlined the potential for geothermal energy in Gippsland – a subject I have blogged on before (see here and here). When I ran on a platform of geothermal energy under the coal in the 2010 State election in the seat of Morwell I envisaged that the geothermal heat would replace brown coal as the power for electricity generation. I considered this the near perfect solution for Victoria with the dirtiest generators replaced by clean energy at the same location, utilising established infrastructure and limiting job loss and relocation problems. This has not occurred and the increasing supply of emissions free energy is coming from the decentralized source of solar, wind and batteries.
Beardsmore noted the “hot aquifer was first reported as long ago as 1962, when government geologist J.J. Jenkin noted many “occurrences of high temperature waters in East Gippsland”. We now know the hot water underlies about 6,000 square kilometres of Gippsland, from Morwell in the west to Lakes Entrance in the east, and holds the equivalent of Au$30 billion of heat at today’s natural gas price”. And “beneath the Latrobe Valley, thick coal layers act like a blanket, which makes the underlying aquifers hotter than aquifers in other locations. The result is unusually hot natural water without needing to burn any fossil fuels – emissions free. At deeper depths we can capture natural steam, and use it to turn turbines for a generator”.
Other than the established Aquatics centre in Traralgon there are only a few projects planned. At Traralgon the geothermal energy is cheaper than the natural gas alternative and perhaps this form of heating will eventually be adopted at other pools, possibly Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance in east Gippsland. The Metung Hot Springs are supposed to be opening in March next year and there is a large hot springs project at Seacombe west on the banks of Lake Wellington. Currently there are no geothermal exploration permits for Gippsland.
There are some indications that the remaining brown coal generators may be gone as early as 2032 bringing the transition from coal to renewables to the fore again. Beardsmore is working with “the Latrobe City Council, the Latrobe Valley Authority, the Geological Survey of Victoria, local business and community groups – to help realise the potential of this massive, undervalued source of clean energy” and currently involved in mapping the geothermal resource.
Earlier this year I wrote whilst “these advances are interesting, it is disappointing that this huge and sustainable energy resource remains untapped. Instead, our region remains stuck with the declining energies of the past and the criminal exploitation of our most valuable carbon store – native forests.” Nothing much has changed.
*Beardsmore is a senior fellow in ‘crustal heat flow’ at Melbourne University and author number of articles and reports on the geothermal energy potential of the Gippsland basin. An interesting study completed in 2017 examined the use of geothermal energy to support the “recreational barramundi fishery in the Hazelwood Pondage” after the closure of the station. For more on this see here.