Low-carbon geothermal heating for homes gets warm reception in UK

Disused mine provides household heat for six months in one of the biggest trials to tap underground reserves in Europe

The mine water heat pump building at Gateshead. Photo: UK Government
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One of the largest projects in Europe to use water from disused coal mines to heat homes has been hailed a success.

The UK launched the scheme in Gateshead, in the North of England, six months ago to heat more than 350 homes and businesses.

The project is helping to combat climate change and achieve net-zero targets by tapping into the potential of water-filled, disused coal workings underground.

It harnesses geothermal energy from mine water to generate localised, secure, low-carbon heat, replacing the function of traditional boiler systems.

The project is due to be extended to include 270 private homes, a new conference centre and a hotel development.

Councillor John McElroy, cabinet member for the environment and transport at Gateshead Council, said the area is leading the way.

“What we have in Gateshead is a legacy from the days of the coal mines, which was dirty energy,” he said.

“Now we are leading the way in generating clean, green energy from those mines.

“Adding mine water to our heat network is a huge achievement on our zero carbon heat journey.

“We are showing what is possible when you invest in this technology.”

It is hoped that the project will be replicated across the UK and the nation’s network of 23,000 abandoned deep coal mines will be repurposed.

It is estimated a quarter of the UK population lives above former coal mines that contain 2.2m GWh of heated water.

The Coal Authority, which oversees the former pits on behalf of the government, estimates there could be enough energy in the flooded, abandoned mines to heat all of the homes on the coalfields.

It believes mine water energy could be crucial when it comes to solving Britain’s energy crisis.

The organisation is now working with other local authorities and partners across England, Scotland and Wales to fulfil the potential of the UK's mine heat.

“We are proud to have been part of this revolutionary project working closely with Gateshead Council, which has led the way in providing a real working example of mine water heat, paving the way for other local authorities and organisations to create similar schemes,” Richard Bond, innovation and engagement director at the Coal Authority, said.

“We believe this is a huge opportunity for Britain that can play a key part in meeting ambitious emissions reduction targets, and it’s encouraging to know that these communities, which had such a big role in our industrial past, will be an important part of a greener future.”

There are about 40 areas across the UK using government funding to conduct feasibility studies to see if the project could be introduced in their regions.

In 2021, the Mine Energy Taskforce and Local Energy Hub published a white paper calling for greater support for mine energy as a key low-carbon heat source in the UK that can contribute to the government’s ambition to reach net zero by 2050.

It claimed that if the 42 projects currently identified in the Coal Authority’s pipeline were to be built, they would collectively generate projected carbon savings of 90,500 tonnes per year, create up to 15,227 new jobs and contribute millions to the economy.

Updated: October 17, 2023, 3:36 PM