United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project

The project

The University of Plymouth’s Sustainable Earth Institute is conducting independent research into perceptions and attitudes about the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project in Cornwall.

There are three main areas of research for the project:

  • Psychology - trying to understand how people picture the geological subsurface, and what emotions people feel about a geothermal power project.
  • Sociology - investigating the impact of the media on communications about geothermal, and using state-of-the art software to assess how people access and interpret any new media information.
  • Communications - looking at how to improve communications between companies interested in this new technology and the residents that will live near potential geothermal sites.

Do you live in Cornwall? 

Are you interested in getting involved with the project? Contact us to take part in the research:

The project is a partnership of organisations exploring if geothermal power is a viable energy resource for the UK. It is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Cornwall Council.

Follow the project on Twitter


Thinking and talking about geothermal

"Hello, I’m Dr Hazel Gibson, a researcher of geology and geoscience communication at the University of Plymouth, particularly interested in geothermal power. I am conducting a series of surveys on how we think and talk about geothermal power.

"There will be multiple short surveys and you can pick how many you want to participate in, and whether you want to do them face-to-face or online. I am particularly looking for people who live near the United Downs site in Gwennap (near Redruth), but some surveys will also be for people who live further afield. 

"If you would like to participate or find out more, please email me or leave your contact details in an online form. Thank you very much for your help!"


Your opinions on the geothermal project in Cornwall

"I am Francesca Tirotto, a PhD student at the University of Plymouth studying perceptions of geothermal energy from a psychosocial point of view.

"I am conducting a series of focus groups with people living near to the United Downs industrial estate in Gwennap to hear your opinion about the geothermal project that will soon involve your villages. The focus group will involve six people who will all be volunteers from the local area.

"The focus group will take no more than one hour and 30 minutes, and you will need to be over 18 to participate. You can choose between an online discussion or a face to face discussion in your village. The day and time of the interview will be arranged according to your commitments.

"If you would like to participate or find out more, please email me. Thank you for your collaboration, I look forward to meeting you!"

What is happening in Cornwall?

The geothermal power being investigated in Cornwall is Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS).

  • Most traditional geothermal plants use steam from water naturally found in hot (often volcanic) rocks near the surface to drive turbines and produce electricity and heat.
  • Enhanced Geothermal (sometimes called engineered geothermal) generates energy from rocks that are either hot, but don’t have water (Deep Geothermal) or have lots of water, but are not very warm (Shallow Geothermal). 
  • The shallow type of Geothermal is most commonly seen in ground source heat pumps (GSHP) in small developments or even people’s homes and usually only generate heat – not electricity.
  • Deep Geothermal involves drilling down to where the rocks are really hot and then adding water to the high temperature system that the drilling creates. This allows the water to turn into steam, which then drives a turbine, creating electricity. Heat is also generated as a by-product.

Professor Iain Stewart with project partners, Geothermal Engineering Limited

The geothermal potential at United Downs comes from large amounts of granite that can be found very close to (sometimes at) the surface in this part of Cornwall, which has a high quantity of natural heat.

Although the rocks are dry and have very little water in them that would provide the kind of geothermal resource available in countries like Iceland, the normal temperature of granite underground can be used to heat water introduced to the rocks by means of a shallow well (approx. 2.5km deep).

The water is heated as it passes through a natural fracture system (the Porthtowan Fault) and returns to the surface by means of a second, deeper well (approx. 4.5km). 

The steam from the hot water drives a turbine at the surface that produces electricity, which can be added to the National Grid.


Project members

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

The University of Plymouth is proud to be supported by the European Regional Development Fund. As one stream of funding under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014–2020, the ERDF focuses on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The main priorities involve contributions to research and innovation, supporting and promoting small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), and the creation of a low carbon economy.